a 1937 "Bobs your uncle"

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Aug 12 10:22:20 UTC 2009

For "Bob's (bob's) your uncle" OED (Bob n.3, 3) notes Partridge 1937 and has
1946 and 1949 quotes. The ads list archives adds quotes from 1938ff. In
addition to "everything's all right" it is used to mean "quickly."

Two other 1938 appearances, in Wm. Matthews, Cockney Past and Present: A Short
History of the Dialect of London:
p. 154 Readiness is expressed by _Bob's your uncle!_...
p. 114 Apparently these catch-phrases were formerly as popular as the more
modern "Bob's your uncle",...

The latter ("more modern") does nothing to help the speculation by Partridge
that the phrase arose ca. 1890, nor the late claim of some dictionaries
that it
refers to nepotism, as in Wikipedia: "It is a catchphrase dating back to 1887,
when British Prime Minister Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury decided to appoint
Arthur Balfour to the prestigious and sensitive post of Chief Secretary for

The following 1937 use is a bit surprising in coming from the US, though with
British content.

The Octagon, The American Institute of Architects, Jan. 1937 v.9, n.1, p.9,
col.2, "A Board Meeting Interlude" by H.G.R. (possibly Hubert G. Ripley of
Boston, a Board member):

As the appointed time drew near a recess was declared, and before one
could say
"Bobs your uncle!"--or even attempt to say it--documents and papers were
whisked aside and a cloth of fair linen spread over the baize that
protects the
fair surface of one of Duncan Phyfe's masterpieces.

The above--with Bobs, sic, no apostrophe--was preparation to hear (in
DC) the "King's farewell speech," Edward VIII abdicating, on Dec. 11, 1936.

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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