Robert’s your father’s nearest male relative

Aug 28, 2012 | Language

The inspiration for today’s blog came from my current reading – Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts. An explanation of the common British phrase Bob’s your uncle was offered as deriving from Lord Frederick Roberts, otherwise known as Lord Roberts of Kabul, or, to his loyal and devoted men, Uncle Bobs. It is thought that the phrase may’ve come from this nickname, being used as a term to instill confidence in the soldiers – implying that all will be well.

But this is by no means the only theory of this etymologically-confused saying. Some believe it has more nepotistic roots and dates back to the appointment of Arthur Balfour to the prestigious job of Chief Secretary for Ireland by Robert Cecil (Lord Salisbury), then the British Prime Minister, or, to Mr Balfour, Uncle Bob.

Yet more musings connect it with the 18th century slang word ‘bob’, often associated with thieves, gamblers and other ne’er-do-wells. Or that it simply comes from the phrase all is bob, meaning that everything is safe, pleasant or satisfactory

Further googling offered yet another explanation, albeit with a slightly dubious pedigree, that it came from Robert Peel’s  early London police force, known as “Peelers”. Apparently, asking Uncle Bob was a way of suggesting directing your enquiries to a policeman…

However, as it doesn’t seem to appear in print until years later in the 1930s, it is still a bit of a mystery. Add old Aunt Fanny to the picture and the plot thickens even further! Maybe we shall never know. Oh, by the way, the version in the title comes from P.G. Wodehouse’s wonderful Wooster.