"face the music" from "face the music of war"

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Wed Jul 3 14:31:40 UTC 2002

    I believe two parts of what James Landau writes can fit nicely together:

1) the MOA attestation of "face the music of war": "Battle of Buena
Vista," in _Southern Quarterly Review_, vol. 3, issue 5, 1851,
pp.146-189. Page 171 contains: "Before these dispositions were
completed, the Mexicans made their appearance--halted beyond the
range of our fire--perceived our resolution to face the music of
war--and prepared at once for the conflict."

2) facing the music of an advancing army (in an attack)--drums,
fifes, bagpipes, whatever.

    So "face the music (of war)" and "bite the bullet" (Civil War
soldier about to be operated on without anesthesia and given only a
soft-lead bullet to bite)
seem to be two expressions that spread beyond their original military
context to the more general one of: prepare to face or do something
very unpleasant.

Gerald Cohen

>At 9:37 AM -0400 7/3/02, James A. Landau wrote:
>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". [snip]
>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:[snip]
>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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