Bob’s your uncle

This British catch phrase means all will be well or all will be taken care. The origin is not known.

Popular etymology says that it derives from a particular act of nepotism in the British government. Robert, Lord Salisbury, the prime minister (left), appointed Arthur Balfour, his nephew (right), to the post of Secretary for Ireland in 1887. Balfour was, at the time, considered young and a political lightweight, and the post was a high-profile, political plum currently embroiled in the question of Irish independence. Unfortunately for this great story, there is no evidence to link this act with the origin of the phrase.

The first citation in the OED is from 1937, appearing as an entry in Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 2nd Edition. Partridge dates the phrase to c.1890, but Partridge’s dates are notoriously unreliable (he tended to insert his best guess instead of relying on actual citations), so this early date is questionable. The 1890 date works well for the Salisbury-Balfour story, but if the date is indeed closer to 1937, then that story becomes less tenable.

For his part, Partridge says the phrase may stem from the cant phrase All is bob, meaning all is safe.

(Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition; Partridge’s Dictionary of Catchphrases; Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 8th Edition)

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