Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone to put more effort into their work or life? If so, you could say to them, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of the expression.

Meaning

If someone tells you to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” they are telling you to suck it up and get on with life. It’s a motivating statement designed to get you unstuck and moving, regardless of the situation or circumstances. It’s also a way of telling someone that they are responsible for pulling themselves out of a bad time in their life.

Example Usage

“You really need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps with your studies. I’ve told you that you need to do your homework or you’re going to fall behind in class.”

“You’ve got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or you’ll never get out of this situation.”

“Listen to me; you need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you want to make the team this year. I need to see that you want it.”

“It’s time for you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work. I’m not keeping you on at the end of the month unless you show me some effort.”

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps or find yourself another job.”

Origin

Language experts are unsure about the origin of the expression, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Some language experts think it comes to war, where tired soldiers would use their bootstraps as leverage to pull themselves to a standing position after sitting down for a while.

As mentioned, the meaning of the expression is to get yourself out of a predicament. So, the war origin makes sense, as a person experiencing extreme fatigue in a battle situation would only have themselves to rely on to get back to an alert mindset and physical state.

James Joyce used the phrase for the first time in his 1922 work, “Ulysses.”

“There were others who had forced their way to the top from the lowest rung by the aid of their bootstraps.”

British authors Kunitz & Haycraft would use the expression in the 19th century.

“A poet who lifted himself by his own bootstraps from an obscure versifier to the ranks of real poetry.”

Phrases Similar to Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps

  • Whatever it takes.
  • Get it together.
  • Where is your head at?

Phrases Opposite to Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps

  • I’ll do it for you.
  • Don’t worry about it.
  • That’s okay.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
  • Pull yourself up by the bootstraps.

Ways People May Say Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with the physical act of pulling yourself up. Nor does it have anything to do with bootstraps. Some people may use the word “boots” instead of “bootstraps,” which would be incorrect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps

You can use the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” When you’re telling someone to change their behavior and start looking out for themselves. The saying suits professional and social use. For instance, the manager could say to you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps after posting bad sales numbers for the month. In this case, they’re telling you to improve your performance.

Or, your parents could tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps after bringing them a bad report card. In this case, they’re telling you to improve your studies. The versatile saying suits many occasions where you tell people to better their performance.

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