Posted by ESC on October 30, 2002
In Reply to: Face the music posted by James Briggs on October 30, 2002
: : The definition given for this phrase is not the one I know...
: : As far as I know the full phrase is "face the music and dance" and I have heard this derived as a military execution, with the regiment drawn up in hollow square around the gallows and the condemmed man is hanged facing the side of the square the band was positioned at ("a band" was short for a "band of music") so that he "danced on air" facing the band.
: Your suggestion could be correct, although I have never heard the 'and dance' bit, other than in the popular song of the same name. There are other possible origins:
: One theory suggests that the saying comes from the theatre, where nervous actors must literally face the music when the curtain goes up. Others think that the origin is military and based on the drumming out ceremony that accompanied dishonourable discharge.
FACE THE MUSIC -- To confront or cope with a difficult situation. The music that was being faced, in a situation where courage was required, is now uncertain. It may have been the pit orchestra in a theater; a nervous actor who steeled himself to go on stage would be facing the music (as well as the audience). It may have been the soldier being dismissed from his regiment in disgrace; it was sometimes the practice for the band to play the 'Rogue's March' on such an occasion. In any event, the saying was common by 1851. M. Schele de Vere in his book on 'Americanisms' quotes James Fenimore Cooper as saying in 1851: 'Rabelais' unpleasant quarter' is by our more picturesque people called 'facing the music.'." From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).