Two queries: "for good"; "face the music"

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Wed Jul 3 13:37:44 UTC 2002

In a message dated 7/3/02 2:34:25 AM Eastern Daylight Time, Bapopik at AOL.COM

>    "Face the Music" is from the Spanish American War (1840s).  As I posted
> here before, it's in the Making of America (Michigan periodicals) database.

The Making of America database, periodicals section, (it's from the
University of Michigan rather than being restricted to Michigan periodicals)
has three hits from the 1850's on "face the music."  Two involve the Mexican
War (not the Spanish-American War, which was 1898).  One is metaphorical: in
a description of the Battle of Buena Vista, the soldiers "face the music of
war".  The other is political: someone writing about the start of the war
says to "face the music - tell the truth".  The third is nautical---the
writer (definitely not a 21st Century type!) is defending the practice of
flogging.  The writer attacks the alternative, imprisonment in the brig on a
bread-and-water diet, as unhealthy and says that ships' medical officers must
"force the legislators to face the music" on the drawbacks of shipboard

Conclusion:  "face the music" was a cliche by the early 1850's, and the MOA
periodicals database offers no clue how or where or when the phrase

Now for a suggestion:  in the US Army, soldiers literally "face the music".
At 1700 hours on every Army post there is a ceremony called "Retreat", which
has nothing to do with losing a battle but rather is the daily flag-lowering
ceremony.  It consists of three parts: first the bugle call "Retreat", then a
cannon is fired, then the bugle call "To The Colors", during which the flag
is lowered.  If you are a soldier and you are outdoors when the first notes
of "Retreat" are sounded, then you come to attention, facing the flag if you
can see it, otherwise facing the source of the music (which in practice means
facing the nearest PA speaker.)

My suggestion is that in some English-speaking Army (the British Army with
its bagpipers is a strong possibility) there was a situation in which
soldiers were in a state of danger and had orders to face the music, or more
exactly, the musicians.  Two possibilities: an 18th Century army might have
bagpipers or other musicians who led an advance towards the enemy, or a
court-martial might have a drummer whom the accused had to face.

     - James A. Landau

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