keep a stiff upper lip


to show no feelings

STATISTICS

IN THE PRESS

“The last thing one would expect is for a therapist to recommend A STIFF UPPER LIP. The label has become accusatory, suggesting that someone is rigid and buttoned-up. But it didn’t always have such a derogatory meaning. Nowadays we place a much higher value on emotional expression than on the ability to control our feelings.”

The Financial Times - A psychotherapist and a philosopher discuss emotional expression

Did you
know?

keep a stiff upper lip
idiom

- someone who has a stiff upper lip does not show their feelings when they are upset

The Cambridge Dictionary


WORD ORIGIN

The idiom “keep a stiff upper lip” has traditionally been used to describe an attribute of British people who are sometimes perceived by other cultures as being unemotional.

Despite strong association with the UK, there are indications that the phrase originated in America. One of the earliest known references to the phrase was in the Massachusetts Spy, June 1815: “I kept a stiff upper lip, and bought a license to sell my goods.” There are several more US references from early 19th century found, and by mid-century it became quite common, while the earliest British reference reported is from 1844.

The phrase has become symbolic of those educated by the English public school system during the Victorian era. Such schools aimed to instill a code of discipline and devotion to duty in their students through competitive sports, corporal punishments and cold showers.

Famous poems that feature a memorable evocation of Victorian self-control include Rudyard Kipling’s “IF“ and W. E. Henley’s “Invictus”.


SYNONYMS

- cold and not feeling or showing any emotion
- having a straight face, not revealing excessive emotion, especially amusement

aloof, anaesthetised, as hard as nails, blank, bloodless, bovine, buttoned-up, catatonic, close-mouthed, cold-eyed, cold-faced, cold-fish, cold-hearted, cool calm and collected, cool-headed, cool as a cucumber, deadpan, devoid of emotion, dispassionate, expressionless, faceless, featureless, flinty, frigid, frosty, glacial, hard-bitten, hard-boiled, hard-headed, hard-hearted, hard as nails, hardened, having all marbles, heartless, ice-cold, icy, impassive, impersonal, imperturbable, inexpressive, inscrutable, insensate, insensible, insensitive, KEEPING A STIFF UPPER LIP, leaden, loveless, marble-hearted, non-emotional, nonreactive, nonresponsive, not moved, not turn a hair, numb, pachydermatous, passionless, po-faced, poker-faced, remote, self-composed, self-contained, self-controlled, senseless, sombre, soulless, sphinx-like, starchy, steely, stone-faced, stony-eyed, stony-hearted, straight-faced, strictly business, tight-lipped, unblinking, uncaring, unemotional, unexpressive, unfeeling, unflappable, unflinching, unflurried, unflustered, unforthcoming, unfriendly, unperturbable, unperturbed, unreadable, unresponsive, unruffled, unshrinking, unsociable, unstirred, unsympathetic, untouched, unvexed, unwelcoming, unworried, withdrawn, wooden


SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“He tries to KEEP A STIFF UPPER LIP, but underneath are deep feelings.”


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