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Holding down the fort

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on March 17, 2009 at 18:52

In Reply to: Holding down the fort posted by ESC on March 16, 2009 at 23:18:

: : : What is the origin of the phrase "Holding down the fort"?

: : The correct phrase is "hold the fort" - there's no "down".
: : Since the Middle Ages "hold" in a military context has meant, "to keep forcibly against an adversary; defend; occupy". If the commander of a fort decided to take some of his forces to make a foray against the enemy, he would always have to leave some of his men in charge of a reliable officer to hold the fort against any possible attack while they were away. (VSD)

: "Hold down the fort" is a variation. The original use of the phrase "hold the fort" was a military order wired by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in 1864 to Gen. John M. Corse at Allatoona during the Civil War. "Records show that the actual words had been 'Hold out, relief is coming,' but 'fort' is what caught on and was further popularized when it was made the refrain of a gospel song by Philip Paul Bliss." From "Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches," second edition, edited by Christine Ammer, Checkmark Books, New York, 2006. Page 202.

I accept that this incident is what popularised the phrase, but it can't possibly have been the *original* use! English-speaking people have been holding forts, and ordering other people to hold forts, for close on a millennium. (VSD)