Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Hold Down the Fort, or, The Guardian’s David Mitchell hates the expression “Hold down the fort”

Recently David Mitchell of The Guardian asked foreigners to stop using the phrase “hold down the fort.” He did so at the behest of the Queen. Mitchell and the Queen don’t see the meaning in the phrase; “hold the fort” would mean keeping our location safe, but what was up with “hold down the fort?”

In the spirit of international brotherhood, I would like to explain the origin of this American phrase. I hope it suits newspapermen and royalty alike.

The 1800s were contentious times in the United States. You had the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and they even slipped a Spanish-American War right in before the century ended. There were numerous backwoods wars with Native Americans and lumberjacks, unofficial navel battles with France and the Mer-People, and a completely unsung war against sky hooligans.

Sky hooligans didn’t even have the decency to live on land. As such, they didn’t have a country that could be declared war upon like decent people. They stayed in their zeppelins, trolling over the great American frontier with anti-gravity cannons. One shot and whatever was struck floated heavenward. They stole Grover Cleveland’s one true love, our first two great national monuments, and the original biggest lake on the continent. That lake ascended, evaporated and became a monsoon on the far side of the world while we edited textbooks to say that Lake Superior had “always” been the largest body of water around. That was humiliating.

Davy Crockett was an avid anti-hooligan. He’d never encountered a thing he couldn’t grin out of the sky. Even eagles went bald from his grin, but these zeppelins would not pop. He refurbished Fort Ticonderoga as an anti-hooligan base, but they shot it and away it flew, with half of Crockett’s militia and most of the country’s primitive moonshine technology. Crockett was haunted for weeks afterward by the drunken singing of the sky hooligans, and it wasn’t just a mental thing. They actually followed him around the country singing bad bar tunes.

Crockett hatched a new plan when he refurbished Fort Sumter. There was still enough militia and booze to get a fight going, but he reached out for something more. Crockett invited Paul Bunyan, who was running for the Nevada State Senate at the time, uncontested in his race both because myths are very popular and Nevada wasn’t a state yet. Crockett offered him all the flapjacks he could eat in return for his services.

Now if you know anything about Paul Bunyan, you know the giant had an endless appetite. He ate breakfast for three days before going out to work in the morning. The entire militia had to give up their guns and pitch in on cooking his eternal breakfast.

The sky hooligans inevitably showed up and fired on Fort Sumter. To their shock, it wouldn’t leave the ground. At first they thought they were just wasted – but no, under Bunyan’s reality-bending mass, the fort simply would not leave the ground. It struck doubt into the hearts of their scientists.

While they struggled with the American giant, Crockett climbed the nearest structure and lassoed the zeppelin. A squad of privateers (legalese of the period for “licensed pirates”) scurried up the rope and brought the zeppelin down. The sky hooligans were arrested in short order, with a few getting parole in exchange for working with the space program.

Ever since, “hold down the fort” has been a saying in the U.S. I hope this clears up any confusion.

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