There has been a lot of speculation over the years about the origins of the phrase Bob’s your uncle, but the fact is that no one knows whose uncle Bob was, or why he should have lent his name to an expression that means something will be very easy or quick to do. Various 19th century public figures have been put forward to explain the phrase’s origin, but there is no contemporary evidence whatsoever to support any of these explanations.
The first citation of the phrase in OED refers to an entry in Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang, 1937; but Partridge cannot shed much light, beyond claiming that it has been used since ca. 1890 and speculating that it may be an elaboration of the ‘low-slang’ phrase all is bob, meaning ‘all is safe’. The slangy nature of the phrase is highlighted in the earliest written citation, a book review in the Observer newspaper in 1932 which refers disapprovingly to the ‘strident liveliness’ of an author who uses it. The poet Stephen Spender (1946) believed the expression to be cockney, though it’s unclear on what grounds.
Bob was used from the 18th century as a generic name for a man (similar to Tom, Dick and Harry). Meanwhile, uncles are often seen as benevolent and potentially generous figures. These elements, combined with the ‘all is well’ meaning, may go some way to explaining the phrase’s origin, though the actual story behind Bob’s your uncle seems destined to remain a mystery.
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