phrases, sayings, proverbs and idioms at
Home button Home | Search the website Search | Phrase Dictionary | Pull yourself up by your bootstraps

The meaning and origin of the expression: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps

Other phrases about:

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Pull yourself up by your bootstraps'?

To 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' is to improve your situation by your own unaided efforts.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Pull yourself up by your bootstraps'?

Pull yourself up by your bootstrapsThe origin of this descriptive phrase isn't known. It refers of course to boots and the straps that some boots have attatched to help the wearer pull them on and to the imagined feat of a lifting oneself off the ground by pulling on one's bootstraps. This impossible task is supposed to exemplify the achievement in getting out of a difficult situation by one's own efforts.

It was known by the early 20th century. James Joyce alluded to it in Ulysses, 1922:

"There were others who had forced their way to the top from the lowest rung by the aid of their bootstraps."

A more explicit use of the phrase comes a little later, from Kunitz & Haycraft's British Authors of the 19th Century:

"A poet who lifted himself by his own boot-straps from an obscure versifier to the ranks of real poetry."

Some early computers used a process called bootstrapping which alludes to this phrase. This involved loading a small amount of code which was then used to progressively load more complex code until the machine was ready for use. This led to the use of the term 'booting' to mean starting up a computer. An early citation of this in print comes from the Proceedings of the institute of radio engineers (IRE), 1953:

A technique sometimes called the ‘bootstrap technique’…Pushing the load button... causes one full word to be loaded into a memory address previously set up... on the operator's panel, after which the program control is directed to that memory address and the computer starts automatically.

An electrical engineer correspondent of mine says that bootstrap was used with the same meaning as above to early radio circuits, before the computer era, but I have no documentary evidence to support that assertion.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Browse phrases beginning with:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T UV W XYZ Full List