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Like it or lump it

My mother was one to spout what she thought an apt aphorism for certain occasions. Sometimes they made sense and other times, not a whit. One of those phrases was, “Like it or lump it.” I understood that she meant I’d have to deal with whatever it was, or as is said today by modern parents, “It is what it is,” but I never knew what precisely “lump it” meant. It was clear to me that her mother had said this to her and she was parroting the phrase on to her children. When I was an adult I asked her what “lump it” meant and she confessed she didn’t really know. It remained a mystery until today when I learned that in German “lumpen” means a cleaning rag.

Then I tried to determine the connection between that definition and what was said to us as children. Her mother, and her mother’s mother, grew up at a time when European immigrants came to the United States, bringing their idiomatic expressions with them, and this must’ve been one that got adopted by parents and got stuck. 

Just in case I got that wrong, I googled the phrase “like it or lump it” and found this: “It refers to a thing which has already been done, or about which you can do nothing. The alternative phrasing ‘Like it or leave it’ has a similar, though technically different, meaning. “To lump” is a term originating in the 16th century meaning “to sulk.” ‘They stand lumping and lowring, fretting and fuming.’”

Another source reads: (lump it means) “to accept a situation or decision although you do not like it. ‘The decision has been made, so if Tom doesn’t like it, he can lump it.’”

Yet another source says: “One of the definitions of ‘lump’ is ‘to tolerate an unpleasant situation.’ This use of the word dates back to the 1500’s but its precise source has been lost. Some claim that it comes from a British dialect word meaning ‘to look sullen;’ others claim it is a nice way to say ‘stuff it. In any event, people use this expression when something cannot change, and everyone must deal with it. They don’t have a choice about this thing happening, but they can choose how to react to it. They can choose to look at it in a positive light, or they can glower and grump about it.”

Now I’m left wondering if the Anglos adopted the German word and then it evolved from one meaning to another. Europe is a small place, and through wars and intermarriage, vocabulary got bandied about and usurped so that words that started out in one place with one meaning showed up later in another place with an altered meaning.

In any case, language (along with its idiomatic expressions) is fascinating. I always want to know where the things we say come from. If you don’t agree with me, I guess you could like my opinion or lump it.

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