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

Well-Known Expressions

Put up or shut up


Either take action or stop talking about it


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

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