Bob's your uncle

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...And Bob's your uncle is an expression of unknown origin, commonly used in Britain and Commonwealth nations. Typically, someone says it to conclude a set of simple instructions, similar to the French expression "et voilà!".

"Bob's your uncle" is an exclamation that is used when "everything is all right" and the simple means of obtaining the successful result is explained. For example: "left over right; right over left, and Bob's your uncle – a reef knot". Sometimes the phrase is followed with "and Nellie's your aunt" or "and Fanny's your aunt". It is sometimes elaborately phrased Robert is your mother's brother or similar for comic effect. With his customary whimsical humour, P.G. Wodehouse extended it to "Robert's your father's nearest male relative".[citation needed]

Origin (theories)[edit]

A common explanation is that the phrase dates to 1887, when British Prime Minister Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury decided to appoint Arthur Balfour to the prestigious and sensitive job of Chief Secretary for Ireland. Lord Salisbury was Arthur Balfour's uncle.[1][2]

Another explanation is that it is related to the British General, Lord Roberts, nicknamed "Bobs". The British Army in India coined the term "Bob's your uncle" to indicate you had the good fortune of being related to the commanding general.[citation needed]

There have been several other slang expressions which included the word "bob", some associated with thievery or gambling, and, from the eighteenth century on, it was also a common generic name for someone one did not know. The difficulty with any of these explanations is that – despite extensive searching – the earliest known published uses of the phrase are from 1932, two from 1937, and two from 1938. (See these and other quotes in American Dialect Society list archived posts by Stephen Goranson.)[1][3]

Bob as a slang term meaning "safety" is cited in the 1736 dictionary A Collection of the Canting Words and Terms, both ancient and modern.[4] Bob is also a slang term for shilling, a former monetary unit and coin of the United Kingdom, which was used in such phrases as the Scouts' Bob a Job Week.[5][6]

In culture[edit]

In Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011), Benji Dunn uses the expression to cap his quick summary of Ethan Hunt's plan to intercept the nuclear code transaction.

In Simon Spurrier's post-apocalyptic novel The Culled (2006), Bella explains to the narrator that all she has to do when flying a plane is pilot it during takeoff, then set the autopilot: "Hit some buttons, sit back, Bob's your uncle." (ch. 2, p. 21)

In Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season finale episode entitled "Beginning of the End", Agent Coulson outlines a difficult plan and concludes it with the phrase.

In the NCIS episode entitled "Truth or Consequences", Agent Anthony DiNozzo uses the phrase to explain the unspoken communication between Agent Gibbs and Director Vance.

In season 11, episode 15 of the animated cartoon TV show The Simpsons, titled "Missionary: Impossible", Homer uses the phrase when talking with Reverend Lovejoy.

In Fawlty Towers Season 1 Episode 3, "The Wedding Party", Basil attempts to keep a guest from walking in on her husband hugging Polly by taking her to another room. He rambles on and on, trying to waste time, when he notices Polly exiting the other room, and he exclaims, "And it'd be a piece of cake. Bob's your uncle. Okay?"

In Monk, season 8, episode 7, "Mr. Monk and the Voodoo Curse", Lieutenant Randy Disher explains how a victim named Robert died: "He opens the box, sees the doll, Bob's your uncle, his heart just stops." After that, Captain Leland Stottlemeyer ribs him, asking if that is a real phrase, or if he made it up; Disher protests that it's an Australian figure of speech.

Author Gregory David Roberts, in the novel Shantaram, chapter 34, page 727 (Kindle ebook), relates "Bob's your uncle" to Lord Frederick Roberts.

In the movie The World's Fastest Indian, the main character Burt Munro played by Anthony Hopkins employs the phrase when explaining the casting of an engine piston to his neighbour's young kid. He uses the same phrase several more times in the movie.

Track 7 on the album Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches, by Happy Mondays, is an instrumental titled "Bob's Yer Uncle".

There was a Canadian band named Bob's Your Uncle.

In the British RAF film, Target for Tonight (1941), the expression is used during a later flying sequence.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b From Aristotelian to Reaganomics: A Dictionary of Eponyms With Biographies in the Social Science, by R. C. S. Trahair, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994, page 72. Retrieved online from Google Books, 30 Jul 2012.
  2. ^ Knickers in a Twist: A Dictionary of British Slang, by Jonathan Bernstein, Canongate U.S., 2006, page 65. Retrieved online from Google Books, 4 August 2012.
  3. ^
  4. ^ A Collection of the Canting Words and Terms, both ancient and modern, used by Beggars, Gypsies, Cheats, House-Breakers, Shop-Lifters, Foot-Pads, Highway-Men, &c. by N. Bailey, London, 1737, Vol. II, and transcrib'd into XML Most Diligently by Liam Quin, 1736. [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ [3]

Further reading[edit]