Why do we say "Put up or shut up"?

Well-Known Expressions

Put up or shut up

Meaning:

Either take action or stop talking about it

Background:

William Safire, writing in the New York Times in 2000 says that the earliest recorded use of this expression is in Fred H. Hart's 1878 collection of stories, The Sazerac Lying Club. In one of the stories, the initials P.U. or S.U. are explained by a character saying, "P.U. or S.U. means put up or shut up, doesn't it?"

He goes on to say that the expression was locked into the American language by Mark Twain in his 1889 Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court with,"This was a plain case of 'put up, or shut up.' "

Safire adds that the metaphor may come from fighting or from card playing, and appears to put his money on the latter by continuing with an explanation of the expression from a card playing point of view - his rational being that put is also used in the expression put your money where your mouth is, which apparently originates as a card playing term; and that to put up is synonymous with to ante up - another card playing term meaning to put ones stake into the pot.

However, the Oxford English Dictionary disagrees, citing a reference in the Marysville Tribune (Ohio) in 1858. This places the expression a full 20 years earlier and firmly in the field of boxing:

"There has always been some objections, however, to every proposition I have made ; some little quibble that this man Heenan has raised, with how much courage and manliness I leave your readers to judge. The above proposition is certainly a fair one, and no man can object to it.— Now, if he means business, let him put up, or shut up, for this is the last communication that will come from me in regard to this fellow."

Alphabetical list of expressions

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
    by Ocean Vuong
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, the bold and bracing debut novel by acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong, ...
  • Book Jacket: Daisy Jones & The Six
    Daisy Jones & The Six
    by Taylor Jenkins Reid
    In this evocative novel written in the format of an interview with members of a fictional music ...
  • Book Jacket: The Age of Living Machines
    The Age of Living Machines
    by Susan Hockfield
    In the face of looming global challenges, such as overpopulation, resource depletion and disease, Dr...
  • Book Jacket
    The Mars Room
    by Rachel Kushner
    There is palpable tension between expectation and reality in Rachel Kushner's third novel. The ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Travelers
    by Helon Habila

    A startlingly exploration of the African diaspora in Europe, by an acclaimed international writer.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Patsy
    by Nicole Dennis-Benn

    A haunting depiction of immigration and womanhood, and the silent threads of love.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Guest Book

The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

"An American epic in the truest sense."
—Entertainment Weekly

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

M I Haste, R A L

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.