Minor British Institutions: Stiff upper lip

  • @_seanogrady

The British stiff upper lip as a defining national characteristic was quietly abolished in 1997, with the national outpouring of grief after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Only in a few corners is the tradition kept alive. Embarrassingly, perhaps, its origins are found in that most "let it all hang out" of nations, America.

The first recorded usage occurred in the Massachusetts Spy, in the edition of 4 June, 1815: "I kept a stiff upper lip, and bought as license to sell my goods". It took another century for it to be established here.

Fright, for one, betrays itself on the human face via a trembling upper lip, and the ability to control and suppress such emotions was long regarded as a virtue, spreading from public school, the military and royalty to the nation as a whole.

It was the necessary aid to dignity when confronted with bereavement, humiliation or other trauma. That is, until Britain went all emotional, after that bank holiday news event in 1997.