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The meaning and origin of the expression: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat

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I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat

Meaning

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweatA line from Sir Winston Churchill's WWII speech on becoming prime minister of the UK in 1940.

Origin

This famous quotation comes from Sir Winston Churchill's speech on 13th May 1940 to the UK's House of Commons. He had recently taken over from Neville Chamberlain as the British Prime Minister. The speech was intended to be a stirring and uplifting call to arms. Churchill was aware of the public hopes that he could change the direction of the war - much in the way that ailing sports clubs hope to change their fortunes by appointing a new manager - and he wanted to make best use of that tide of feeling. He was also well aware of the difficulties ahead and, not wanting to raise false hope, he entered notes of caution and warning.

He had used the line "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" on his Cabinet colleagues earlier the same day. Part of his speech was:

"I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime."

The line is often said to have given rise to another phrase, which over time has become more integrated into the language - 'blood, sweat and tears'. That phrase predates Churchill though and had been used several times during the 19th century with allusion to the trials and tribulations of Jesus Christ; for example, this poem, called Christ in the Garden, reprinted in The Huron Reflector in 1845:

So deep was his sorrow, so fervent his prayers,
That down o'er his bosom rolled blood, sweat and tears;
I wept to behold him and asked him his name;
He answered, 'tis Jesus, from heaven I came.

There's no suggestion that in using 'blood, toil, tears and sweat' Churchill took his lead from this piece of doggerel. He may well though have been conscious of the allusion to Christian symbolism in his speech.

See also: the meaning and origin of 'Blood, sweat and tears'.