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What is the origin of the phrase "Bob's your uncle"? Is it used internationally or is this just a term used in the UK?

I have often heard an extension of this phrase: "Bob's your uncle and Fanny's your aunt", can anyone shed any light on this variant?

An example of how it is used:

"Put it in the oven for 20 minutes and Bob's your uncle, your dinner will be done".

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We use it in Australian English too. –  Mark Hurd Apr 10 '11 at 14:40
    
I first heard "Fanny's your aunt" said by Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Never hear it before that and I would imagine that it was something thrown in by the writer. –  user14057 Oct 19 '11 at 18:37
    
I have heard it in America. –  GEdgar Oct 19 '11 at 20:01
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Susan, Fanny's your aunt did not originate from Pirates of the caribbean. I am 43 and have used the saying 'Bob's your uncle, fanny's your aunt!' since I was very little. It is a saying which has been around for over a hundred years. –  user14237 Oct 27 '11 at 0:22
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5 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

As far as I know this is only heard in British English. I've never heard Americans use it unless they were imitating Britons. Etymology here:

Bob's your uncle - ironic expression of something easily done - like: there you have it, as if by magic - Cassells cites AJ Langguth's work Saki of 1981 in suggesting that the expression arose after Conservative Prime Minister Robert (Bob) Cecil appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1900, which was apparently surprising and unpopular. In this sense the expression also carried a hint of sarcastic envy or resentment, rather like it's who you know not what you know that gets results, or 'easy when you know how'. Since then the meaning has become acknowledging, announcing or explaining a result or outcome that is achieved more easily than might be imagined.

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Agreed - only in UK English. –  The Raven Apr 10 '11 at 12:32
    
Thanks @Robusto any idea about the variation of "... fanny's your aunt"? –  sturner Apr 11 '11 at 12:31
    
@sturner: My usual sources are strangely silent or evasive on this. Presumably this is becauae fanny in British English is a rather vulgar euphemism for female genitalia. I would suppose that it is either a tag added for symmetry (to complete the thought by adding a complete male/female pair to the mix) or else, if said in response to "Bob's your uncle," a counterplay intended as a mild refutation that something is easy. In short, I don't really know. –  Robusto Apr 11 '11 at 12:48
    
Fanny is genitalia in Britain? It's a mild euphemism for (a man or a woman's) butt in American English. –  onomatomaniak Oct 19 '11 at 19:01
    
@onomato: Yes, it is. And yes, I know. –  Robusto Oct 20 '11 at 1:31
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Bob's your uncle, an expression meaning "everything will be fine", originated when Arthur Balfour was unexpectedly promoted to Chief Secretary for Ireland by the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, in 1900. Salisbury was Balfour's uncle and his first name was Robert.

Other notables named Robert have also been nominated as the origin of this phrase. See here for more.

Green's Slang Dictionary notes the gap between Balfour's appointment and the appearance of the saying and suggests that Bob in this case is a euphemism for "God".

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Several respondents have stated that "Bob's your Uncle" is not American English. I have spent most of my life in North America and have regularly heard that phrase used in the sense of "before you can say 'Bob's your Uncle'" - indicating, as suggested, simple, easy, and taking little time. There was no suggestion that British English was being imitated or was in any way involved.

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Where perzactly in North America was this? I've not heard it used in any sense myself. –  jbelacqua Apr 11 '11 at 5:42
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@jgbelacqua upvote for good use of perxactly. –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Oct 19 '11 at 18:54
    
@mickeyf That is not the same sense in which it is used in Britain. In the UK it means 'everything is ok'. 'I just followed the instructions and Bob's your uncle' meaning '.... everything turned out fine'. For the usage you describe, the British have a different expression 'before you can say Jack Robinson'. –  WS2 Oct 25 '13 at 21:23
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I have certainly heard it used in Australia. When I lived there in 1974/5 the safety of vasectomies was being questioned. I distinctly remember a tabloid newspaper headline which read 'One slip, and Bob's your Auntie', confirming to me that the Australian sense of humour owed much to the old country.

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Bob is your uncle is a British English informal phrase that is used to express the ease with which a task can be achieved.
It is not used in American English.

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protected by RegDwigнt Oct 27 '11 at 9:00

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