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 square 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.

Origin (theories)[edit]

  • A common explanation is that the phrase dates to 1887, when British Prime Minister Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury decided to appoint his nephew Arthur Balfour to the prestigious and sensitive job of Chief Secretary for Ireland.[1][2]
  • An ironic expression of something easily done - like: "there you have it, as if by magic" - Cassell & Co publisher of A.J. Langguth's work Saki, A Life of Hector Hugh Munro of 1981, cites it in suggesting that the expression arose after Conservative Prime Minister Robert (Bob) Cecil appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1900, which was apparently surprising and unpopular. In this sense the expression also carried a hint of sarcastic envy or resentment, rather like "it's who you know" not "what you know" that gets results, or "easy when you know how". Since then the meaning has become acknowledging, announcing or explaining a result or outcome that is achieved more easily than might be imagined.
  • 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 one 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][4]
  • 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.[5]
  • 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".[6]
  • Bob was also a 19th century slang term for sex as in "quite a dry, Bob" from Lord Byron's "Don Juan", with a "dry Bob" meaning "coitus without emission" and also serving as a slam against his contemporary Robert Southey.

In culture[edit]

Numerous works of arts, entertainment, and media either use the phrase as a title or include the use of the phrase. The following are examples.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Trahair, R. C. S. (1994). From Aristotelian to Reaganomics: A Dictionary of Eponyms With Biographies in the Social Science. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 72. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  2. ^ Bernstein, Jonathan (2006). Knickers in a Twist: A Dictionary of British Slang. Canongate U.S. p. 65. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  3. ^ Goranson, Stephen. "American Dialect Society list". Linguistlist.org. 
  4. ^ Quinion, Michael. "Bob’s your uncle". World Wide Words. 
  5. ^ Baily, N. and transcrib'd into XML Most Diligently by Liam Quin (1736). 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. London. 
  6. ^ "Shiling". Coins of the UK. 

Further reading[edit]