a 1938 "bob's yer uncle"? etc.

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Sep 29 10:31:49 UTC 2007

As you know, Eric Partridge listed as slang "Bob's your uncle" in 1937, but,
as far as I know, no one has pointed out published citations as early as 1937.
OED notes Partridge and has 1946 as its earliest quotation.

OED Bob n.7 sense 3:
3. Slang phr. Bob's (bob's) your uncle: everything is all right.
1937 in PARTRIDGE Dict. Slang (ed. 2) 981/2. 1946 S. SPENDER Europ.
Witness 143
He mixes up phrases such as ?Oh boy, oh boy?, with cockney such as
"Bob's-your-uncle". 1949 "N. BLAKE" Head of Traveller iv. 60 Three
curves and a twiddle, label it "Object", and bob's your uncle.

Of course many suggest that this refers to Robert Cecil appointing his nephew
Arthur Balfour Chief Secretary of Ireland in 1887; others object that that is
too early to be probable, and AFAIK present no explict mention of such
association earlier than 1979 and 1981 books. Some early uses seem to follow
the approximate form: do X, Y, and Z, and (zip-zap, instantly), bob's your
uncle (fait accompli), which could be seen as differing from because Bob's your
(or his) uncle, X, Y, and Z follow [see, e.g. 1947 below]. Partridge mentioned
"all is bob." Bob as possible replacement word for God may be worth mention.
Here are some early uses of the phrase; I invite additions.

1938? [Google Books gives 1939, so I got the two 1939 volumes from
storage, and it isn't on their pp. 72, but I find, in an author note, that the
Google TOC matches the 1938 volume listed below; I've requested the paper copy]
New Writing, (London : Hogarth Press) edited by John Lehmann, new series no. 1,
Fall 1938  p. 72:
line of girls sauntering along by the shop windows. A tall girl in the middle
turned her head as they came near. "H'm, look out, girls," she said.
'The army's 'ere.' The others turned and giggled shrilly as the youths marched
'Bob's yer uncle,' shouted another girl, very suddenly. .

1942 Movie title, opened in UK March 2, according to imdb.com [where a 1991 TV
series title is also listed]

1943 None But the Lonely Heart, Richard Llewellyn p143 [Father is a monk]
"Hullo, Father," he says, pleased as punch, he was. "I never thought you'd be
round here this time of night? If I thought you was coming, I'd have been round
here all dolled up and bob's your uncle, hours ago." "And where is the reverend
gentleman I was hearing...."
{pages 148-9] "....See? It's just a way of saying some- [/149] thing, like Bob's
Your Uncle, or Have a Banana. That's easy, ain't it?"
"Just a moment, now," says the monk. "Per cent is another name for a hundredth

1943 August, Blackwood's Magazine. "Mistaken Identity" [phone calls for someone
else] 111-6 here 114-5.
I salvaged from the flood a general impression that I was considered to be at
fault for not attending at a given time and place to rehearse an entertainment
whose title may or may not [/115] have been "Bob's your Uncle.'

1943 Manual of Foreign Dialects for Radio, Stage and Screen,
Lewis Herman and Marguerite Herman (Chicago, New York: Ziff-Davis, 1943)  [under
To speed a parting, as in the American "Get going, now.":
"bAWbz y' rAHnkOOL"
(Bob's your uncle.)

1945f a race horse name in UK

1946 Ego 8, Continuing the Autobiography of James Agate By
James Agate  [p.44] ...Monty Mumble...what did I see him in last? Was it Topsy
Turns Turtle or Bob's Your Uncle? I remember he was awfully good
as a ship's steward?I had no idea he could play a reception-clerk. ...

1946 Stephen SPENDER European Witness  ch 11 The Film Unit [Boyman, false name,
working on Military Government film]143
 Boyman talks an Anglo-American-Continental Film World slang in which he mixes
up phrases such as "Oh boy, oh boy", with cockney such as
"Bob's-your-uncle". He combines the gestures of a G.I. with those of a farouche
type in a Rene Clair film. When he speaks French{...oddly]

1947 Dulcimer Street, Norman Collins, p.142 "All it needs is timing. Pick your
moment. Don't force things. And look out for a nice lock-up somewhere off the
beaten track. Don't get too fancy. Don't go too high. Choose something that the
cops won't turn round to stare at. Then you'll be all right. Make it a Morris or
an Austin, and Bob's your uncle." "And what about your
poor old mum if you slip up somewhere?" Voice No. 2 said as soon as Voice No. i

1948 musical farce title, opened in London

1949 "N. BLAKE" Head of Traveller iv. 60 Three curves and a twiddle, label it
"Object", and bob's your uncle.

1959 Oct. 31 The Economist p394 [Adv.] Just take out a life policy with The
Northern--and bob's your uncle! That clears the mortgage if you die.

1960 Mrs. 'Arris Goes to New York (NY: Doubleday) By Paul Gallico p82 [page 85
in London: Michael Joseph  edition of Mrs. Hsarris...] It'll only be a couple
days 'til we find 'is dad, and then Bob's yer uncle.
Garn now and forget it, and enjoy yerself. What's to go wrong? ...

1979 [phrase finder] Another interpretation is that it derives from the supposed
nepotism of Lord Salisbury. Piers Brendon, in Eminent Edwardians, 1979, writes:
"... in 1887, Balfour was unexpectedly promoted to the vital front line post of
Chief Secretary for Ireland by his uncle Robert, Lord Salisbury."

1981 AJ Langguth, Saki [Cassels], as above 1979.

Stephen Goranson

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list