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The meaning and origin of the expression: Like it or lump it

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Like it or lump it

Meaning

Said of an unpleasant outcome that one has no choice but to accept - one can either endure it willingly or endure it with suffering.

Origin

When we are given a fait accompli in a situation in which we would normally expect some sort of choice, we might not be too pleased about it. We may then be told to 'like it or lump it'. Had the expression been coined in the 16th century this is no doubt what Thomas Hobson would have said to his prospective customers when he offered them 'Hobson's choice'.

But how exactly do we 'lump' something? Although 'lump' is almost always used as a noun rather than a verb, there are many meanings of the verb form of 'lump' to choose from:

- To bet all of one's money on a single wager (first recorded in the 19th century)
- To make something into a lump (18th century)
- To classify various things as a group, that is, lump them together (17th century)
- To slouch along lazily (17th century)
- To look sulky or disagreeable (16th century)

Of course, it is the last of these lumps that is the alternative to 'like it'.

'Lumping' in the sense of mooching about grumpily may well be of Irish origin and is first recorded in Richard Stanyhurst's Treatise Describing Irelande, 1577. The Dublin born Stanyhurst risked the wrath of his contemporaries by suggesting that the English rule in Ireland wasn't the source of all their troubles:

Here percase some snappish carper will snuffinglie snib me for debasing the Irish language: because that by proofe and experience we see, that the pale was neuer in more florishing estate than when it was wholie English, and neuer in woorsse plight than since it hath infranchised the Irish. But some will saie, that I shew my selfe herein as friuolous... They stand lumping and lowring, fretting and fuming.

[Note: Stanyhurst's expressive phrase 'snuffingly snib' means 'rebuke in a snorting manner'.]

[Note: see also 'Beyond the pale'.]

Soon afterwards, in 1581, Barnaby Rich used the term in Farewell to Military Profession:

She beganne to froune, lumpe, and lowre at her housebande.

Rich was a naval captain and undoubtedly English, but most of his writing related to Ireland and he moved to Dublin to write on his retirement from the Navy.

People had been lumping it for a few hundred years before anyone thought of the phrase 'like it or lump it'. A play on words between the noun and verb usages of the word lump was what brought it about. The early uses of the expression refer to things that have lumps in them, as in this example from the London magazine The Monthly Mirror, 1807, in a piece titled Rules For Punning:

Mrs. ...purposely sends a dish of tea to a lady, without sugar, of which she complains.
Mr. ...(Handing the sugar basin) - Well, ma'am, if you don't like it, you may lump it.

The English love of wordplay is long lasting, some might say chronic, and Zadie Smith made the same little joke in her novel White Teeth, 2000:

We're all English now, mate. Like it or lump it, as the rhubarb said to the custard.

The first example that I can find of the precise 'like it or lump it' wording of the expression is in Specimens, 1841, Josiah Shippey's book of morally uplifting essays, which were delivered in the form of tortured rhyming couplets, worthy of William McGonagall:

Yet his merit, though some may be ignorant of it,
And as he by it wishes each one may profit;
Imperiously forces, or like it or lump it,
Himself, honest fellow, to blow his own trumpet.