stick to your guns

Stand up for your rights, and refuse to compromise or change despite criticism. “I’ll stick to my guns on this matter. I’m sure I’m right.”

The phrase is based on the military meaning of ‘stick to your guns’: to continue shooting at an enemy although it puts you in great danger or, indeed, when all appears to be lost.

Apparently the Royal Artillery has a long tradition that their guns take the place of ‘Colours.’ The ‘Colours’ are the flag that is the representative of the regiment, or other type of unit, and the loss of the Colours was considered a great disaster. In the case of the Royal Artillery, the guns were defended to the end, hence “stick to your guns.”

The expression originated in the 18th century, at a time when guns were becoming pretty much universal as a weapon of war. The British version is ‘stand to your guns’ while Americans say ‘stick to your guns’ or less commonly ‘stick with your guns.’ In a gun battle, gunners obviously were encouraged to stay with or stick to their positions and keep shooting rather than run away.

According to Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman (1996), the phrase has been traced back to the Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1740-95) James Boswell, Samuel Johnson’s biographer, writes in 1769, “Mrs. Thrale stood to her gun with great courage in defense of amorous ditties.” A rather inappropriate use of this phrase occurred in a 1909 account about the staunchly pacifist Society of Friends: “The Quakers stood to their guns, and without any resort to brute force, finally won.”

In the United States, it was first attested in Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers (1884-1933).

Robert Hendrickson’s Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins (1997) says the term may be military in origin and lists a mention of the term “as late as 1839, in a popular novel called Ten Thousand a Year, the words put in the mouth of a civilian named Mr. Titmouse.”

Now, of course, the phrase is a metaphor for refusing to change your ideas, though other people try to make you change them.

Not surprisingly, it’s a popular song title, and is also the name of an American hardcore punk band from Orange County, California.

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