Hold Down the Fort - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you about to walk out the door of your home to grab dinner for your family? If so, you could tell your son to "hold down the fort" while you're out fetching the order. It's a way of telling him to look out for things while you're away.

This post unpacks everything you need to know about this idiom's origin, meaning, and use in conversation.

Hold Down the Fort Meaning

To "hold down the fort" is something you would say to someone when you temporarily ask them to take control or command of a situation, business, or place in your absence. Essentially, you're asking another person to look after things while you're away from the site.

It's something of a military term, and it still has plenty of use in modern society. The chances are that you've either used the phrase yourself or heard someone say it to you in the past. To hold down the fort means that you are passing off responsibility to another person.

So, you're also letting the other person know that you trust them and respect them enough to look after property or assets close to you. The phrase is a colloquial expression, and it usually features in lighthearted conversation, but it sometimes has used in pressure situations.

Hold Down the Fort Example Usage

"We're going to the store for five minutes; hold the fort until we get back."

"We need to step out of the office for ten minutes, but Jim will hold down the fort until we get back."

"Johnson is holding the fort at the forward position until the return of Kimberidge later in the week."

"Could you hold down the fort while we go out for lunch?

"Hold down the fort; make sure the numbers don't slip for the business while the boss is away."

"Hold down the fort and ensure you don't let those Jehovah's witness in the house."

Hold Down the Fort Origin

"Hold down the fort" is a variation of the original phrase "hold the fort," penned as a military order by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in an 1864 wire to Gen. John M. Corse during the Civil War at Allatoona. The original wire reads as follows.

"Records show that the actual words had been 'Hold out, relief is coming,' but 'fort' is what caught on and further popularized when it was made the refrain of a gospel song by Philip Paul Bliss."

The phrase also appears in the second edition of "Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches," by Christine Ammer, in 2006.

The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang also notes the use of the phrase dating to the late 19th Century, where "hold down" means "to occupy a place."

Phrases Similar to Hold Down the Fort

  • Look after this for me.
  • Take care of this, will you?
  • Handle your business.

Phrases Opposite to Hold Down the Fort

  • We ran away.
  • We let it go.
  • We gave up.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Hold down the fort.
  • Hold the fort.
  • Holding down the fort.
  • Held down the fort.

Ways People May Say Hold Down the Fort Incorrectly

While holding down the fort is useful in social and professional settings, it's not suitable for the boardroom or language suitable for use at professional events.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Hold Down the Fort

"Hold down the fort" can apply to social and professional settings. The "fort" in the saying could refer to your home, business, office, organization, or just a spot on the beach sand. When you're using the phrase, you're typically entrusting the other person with the responsibility of taking care of something.

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