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Keep a stiff upper lip

Posted by Lewis on July 03, 2008 at 13:34

In Reply to: Keep a stiff upper lip posted by David FG on July 03, 2008 at 08:43:

: : : "Keep a stiff upper lip" means 'having courage'.

: : : I was told this originated when men had to load gunpowder into their muskets by opening the powder pouch with their teeth. Therefore, some men would deliberately knock out their two front teeth so they couldn't be conscripted.

: : This is total nonsense: you didn't bite open a paper cartridge with your front teeth, but your side teeth. (I have learned and performed both the British and the French musket-loading drill.) And even if you did, what possible connection can you make between having missing front teeth and a stiff upper lip (on the contrary, a big gap in your front teeth tends to make your mouth crumple), and between dodging military service and being stoical? This is nonsense on a par with that silly one about "pull your finger out" being about cannon firing. "Stiff upper lip" is just what it sounds like: keeping a composed expression and not blubbering or letting youtr lip tremble. (VSD)

: Added to which, conscription, in Britain has been of very limited duration - only happening from the period beginning in the First World War and ending in the late 1950s. And during that period muskets and powder pouches were not in regular use...

: Before that time Britain (and before that, England) had a tiny standing army made up of volunteers.

: No one is likely to knock out their own teeth in order to avoid volunteering.


this one is clearly spurious - as VSD says, a soldier would use molars to rip open a waxed-paper cartouche and prior to that, powder-horns did not require tooth-work.
England only introduced conscription in the first world war (20th century). in the days of muskets/rifles charged with powder cartridges, there was no conscription and recruiting sergeants would trawl the countryside with a drummer encouraging men to 'take the king's shilling' and join up.

in the Napoleonic era, 'press gangs' operated to press people into naval service, but they never worried about a few lost teeth...