Why we say: ‘Bob’s your uncle’

Used to describe something that can be resolved easily or without much effort, ‘Bob’s your uncle’ usually comes after a set of instructions

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For example, “All you do, is head to your nearest supermarket or newsagent, pick up a copy of History Revealed and Bob’s your uncle! You can read a host of interesting, action-packed stories from the past.”

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There are several theories about the phrase’s origin. A strong contender is that it heralds from 1880s Britain and the appointment of Arthur Balfour as Secretary of State for Ireland.

Balfour was a surprise choice for the position, with many at the time thinking he was unqualified. He was, however, the nephew of the Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil. Soon the joke started spreading that if ‘Bob was your uncle’, then your favoured result was guaranteed. Interestingly, the word, ‘nepotism’ even comes from the Italian word for ‘nephew’.

Other theories include:

  • It derives from the 17th-century slang, ‘All is bob’ which simply means everything is good or safe.
  • It entered popular parlance after a musical show called Bob’s Your Uncle in 1924. This is one of the first records of the phrase in print.
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Etymologists continue to argue about the roots of the phrase. Was it a satirical gag criticising political nepotism? Or did it come from the Music Hall? For now, it is up to everyone to judge for themselves, and Bob’s your uncle!