Stiff upper lip

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This article is about the idiom. For the AC/DC album, see Stiff Upper Lip. For other uses, see Stiff upper lip (disambiguation).

One who has a stiff upper lip displays fortitude in the face of adversity, or exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotion.[1][2] The phrase is most commonly heard as part of the idiom "keep a stiff upper lip", and has traditionally been used to describe an attribute of British people, who are sometimes perceived by other cultures as being unemotional.[1] A sign of weakness is trembling of the upper lip, hence the saying keep a stiff upper lip. When a person's upper lip begins to tremble, it is one of the first signs that the person is scared or shaken by experiencing deep emotion.[3]

Despite strong association with the UK, there are indications that the phrase originated in America. One of the earliest known references to the phrase was in the Massachusetts Spy, June 1815: "I kept a stiff upper lip, and bought [a] license to sell my goods." There are several more US references from early 19th century found, and by mid-century it became quite common, while the earliest British reference reported is from 1844. [4]

Poems that feature a memorable evocation of Victorian cold-bloodedness and a stiff upper lip include Rudyard Kipling's "If—" and W. E. Henley's "Invictus".[5] The phrase became symbolic of the British people, and particularly of those who were products of the English public school system during the Victorian era. Such schools aimed to instill a code of discipline and devotion to duty in their students through competitive sports, corporal punishments and cold showers.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Keep a stiff upper lip Retrieved 20 February 2011
  2. ^ "The myth of the stiff upper lip", BBC
  3. ^ "Stiff upper lip". World Wide Words. 2006-08-19. Retrieved 2013-02-04. 
  4. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ a b Spartans and Stoics - Stiff Upper Lip - Icons of England Archived 12 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 20 February 2011

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