[Ads-l] Fw: Bobs notes
goranson at DUKE.EDU
Tue Jan 14 12:20:28 UTC 2020
1) I have looked through the book by Herman Darewski, Musical Memories (London, 1937). Unless I missed something, there is no mention of a "Bobs Your Uncle" song.
Darewski (p. 205) does record some music hall slang (my elipses here):
<start>"Pros" have an argot of their own. They don't go on the stage, they go on the "green," meaning greengage. They don't dance, they "wallop." They carry "dots," not music, and the fare to the next town is the "rattler"...The gentleman who solicits your donations to the box at the seaside pierrot show does not collect, he "bottles" the "edge" (crowd)...<end>
2) Below, I suggested one option for interpreting the 1891 Scottish "Bob's yer Uncle!" might be if the watcher, Bailee Ross were named Robert, Bob. The Arthur Balfour nepotism seems not involved here. God (perhaps note the capitalized Uncle) may be another option. The sense here seems to be "you're being watched" or such, rather than the later "easy peasy, instantly, no problem."
Now Pascal Tréguer, whose website, which is worth a visit, is
has kindly searched for the given names of Bailee Ross, and reported:
<start>it seems that his full name was William Rennie Ross. On 17th October 1893, The Buchan Observer and East Aberdeenshire Advertiser (Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland) announced:
Burgh of Peterhead.
Municipal Election, 1893.
Annual election of Councillors to supply the Four Vacancies occurring in the Town Council by the retiral of
William Rennie Ross, Bailie [...].<end>
So, thanks to Pascal, my proposed option can be dismissed. Negative progress? Nonetheless I predict that further uses of "Bob's your/yer Uncle" will be found (maybe in Scotland) prior to 1891 and 1887 (the Cecil/Balfour origin story time) as well as in the 1891 to 1920s gap.
From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
Sent: Sunday, December 29, 2019 5:42 AM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: [ADS-L] Bobs notes
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. 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?
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