Monday, 21 October 2013

# 380 Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

One of the teachers I had at University enjoyed telling us the story behind many of the idioms used in the English language and since then this is something that's interested me.

Everyday we hear or use many phrases and sayings without having a clue as to where they come from and that's why I enjoyed Red Herrings and White Elephants by Albert Jack so much. Although I'm familiar with a few of the phrases in the book I had no idea where they originated from so it was both fun and educational to find that out. Other phrases I've heard before but their meaning wasn't obvious to me, Shipshape and Bristol fashion is one and Bob's Your Uncle is another. The first for no other reason than that we live only a few miles from Bristol and the 2nd because I always thought  it sounds quite funny.

According to the book Shipshape and Bristol Fashion is used to say that everything is neat, tidy and in good order. In the days before Liverpool became a major English port, Bristol was the premier western port from which most ships would embark on transatlantic voyages. It was also a naval port and prided itself on its reputation for efficiency and neatly packed cargoes. The traditional high standards of ships leaving Bristol lead to the phrase passing into the English language.

Bob's Your Uncle is often used to describe something that is resolved in your favour without much effort, such as "Just send the form in and Bob's your uncle." The phrase was in regular use in Britain from the 1890s and comes from the promotion in 1886 of Arthur Balfour to Secretary of State for Ireland. Balfour was a surprise choice for the position and few regarded him as qualified for the post. But when it became known he was the nephew of Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Third Marquis of Salisbury, the joke circulated that, if Robert was your uncle, a deed was as good as done.

If you'd like to know more about many of these everyday sayings you can find a PDF copy of this book here. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.