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Holding the fort

Posted by Lewis on March 20, 2009 at 16:20

In Reply to: Holding down the fort posted by Victoria S Dennis on March 17, 2009 at 18:52:

: : : : 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)

I understand that 'fort' derives from 'strong' as in a strong-point or strong-hold - a place where a position can be held again the enemy.

I'm not sure if home/holm has similar linguistic roots to hold, but 'small-holding' derives from a person 'holding' an estate in land in a legal, rather than military sense.

Roman army camps were the equivalent of 'forts' - often having a pallisade and ditch.

if we went back to Roman authors, it would seem likely that the equivalent of 'defending the camp' is recorded. I can't recall from my Latin readings, but many military expressions had become commonplace in the writings of that era.

it raises that old issue of an expression in one language being translated and seeming original twice.