[Ads-l] Bobs notes

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Dec 29 10:42:49 UTC 2019

Bobs are many, but here few.

The London Bobby probbly got that name in allusion to Home Secretary Robert Peel.

An 1893 Kipling poem praises "Bobs," "Fightin' Bobs," a.k.a. Field Marshall Frederick Sleigh Roberts (1832 -1914). According to some, the nickname was affectionate. In 1900 (Feb. 17, several newspapers], as he returned to London from a victory, the War Department "waited for details from 'Bobs,'"  while he was at lunch with Arthur Balfour [hmm, whose uncle was Robert Cecil, who in 1887 appointed him Chief Secretary of Ireland; just kidding, but not about the coincidental lunch.] According to Dictionary of National Biography, "In India it was believed that officers could gain advancement through her [Roberts' wife], and Roberts and she were nicknamed Sir Bobs and Lady Jobs (Beckett, 478). The queen wrote in 1895 that Roberts was 'ruled by his wife who is a terrible jobber … her notorious favouritism'."

1923 is the earliest generally-mentioned use of "Bobs [sic, no apostrophe nor comma] Your Uncle," a song title, whose words apparently are, so far, not findable online. Herman(n) Darewski may have written it and certainly published it (at least the title). He also wrote a book, Musical Memories (London, 1937), which I have not seen. Maybe the lyrics will turn up some day.

An 1891 use of the collocation of "Bob's yer Uncle!" in Scotland (as with other early uses mentioned on ads-l) has been reported by Pascal Tréguer.[1] I don't have direct access to the newspaper, East Aberdeenshire Observer (Peterhead), Nov. 12, 1891.
The sense there seems to me somewhat different than current usage, namely now, something easy, fast, no problem. To simplify (see the paragraph quoted there), a committee was set to meet about land rights, and the writer was concerned about a bad outcome. Yet, he addressed the members, reminding them that "they will be well watched while Bailee [i.e., Officer/Magistrate] Ross sits at the Board, and to him I with confidence address the counsel Go to it as you have begun! Bob's yer Uncle!" Here the prospect is not easy nor fast, but with some hope of care from an overseer, an avuncular one. Is that to be from God, or was Officer Ross named Robert?

Stephen Goranson
[1] https://wordhistories.net/2018/06/04/bobs-your-uncle/

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

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