Fill your boots

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25 comments on this post.
  1. GuanoLad:

    It would appear Becky Barry was 8 at the time she made most of those prank calls, back in around 2006, though they were set up for her by a radio show. She’s now, in 2010, approximately 13 years old.

  2. Josh Pelton:

    As all good sayings do, it comes from a sailor.

    The following is an excerpt from Memoirs of Serjeant Paul Swanston: being a narrative of a soldier’s life, in barracks, ships, camps, battles, and captivity on sea and land; with notices of the most adventurous of his comrades (no, that’s really the full name of the book), first published in 1818.

    In quick time they were at the wine-pipe; for a moment the new hands seemed at a loss for the means of getting the wine to their mouths; but the “wide-a-awake” boy sliped (sic) off one of his shoes in a twinkling, dipped it into the cask and drank.

    “Drink, you devils, drink!” he said; “its all one how much you drink, only don’t get drunk!” And again he filled his shoe, and again he drank. The previous debauch in connexion with the new, soon tumbled him on the ground; and he lay there gradually sinking into stupidity; but, as he took his leave of consciousness, he admonished the others to take care of themselves; to take as much as they could rightly carry; but not to get drunk, saying, as he sunk lower and lower himself, “Fill your boots, boys—fill your boots! Give me one small drop in a shoe to make me well again, for I’m— I’m—.”

    Alas, poor humanity! There lay in the deepest degradation, as good a fighting soldier, and, when he could not get drink, as cleanly and active a fellow as ever the English army possessed.

    I can’t think of anything more exemplary of gusto than a sailor getting blind stinking drunk out of his shoe.

    You can read the full text here.

  3. Topi Linkala:

    In every case I’ve read or heard ‘fill your boots’ used it’s not have been just “Go for it!” or “Get up and get going!”, but with the added idea that you should do it, because it’s your job. So don’t twaddle, but fill your boots.

  4. Erik:

    There’s a Grimms Fairy tale where a man makes a deal with the Devil for as much gold as he can fit in his boot. But, the gentleman’s boot has a hole in the bottom of it so it doesn’t fill up.

  5. Win:

    Means man-up and get it done.

  6. ECS:

    Topi Linkala is right I think, this could explain the origin of the saying, fill your boots: fufil your role, makes sense as boots or shoes are common metaphor for a role (like “in his shoes”).

  7. Greg:

    Here in Australia I’ve heard it a few times and it has had nothing to do with getting a job done or any sense of responsibility, it’s been purely about saying “have as much as you want”.

  8. Raoul:

    I’ve always heard it as help yourself. The orgin seems to be based on sailor’s adventures, like pirates looting would not have any other way to carry what they’ve taken. Another: “to fill one’s boots”, when one is hanged the pant legs were tuck into the boots, at the point of execution the person evacuates and “fills their boots”.

  9. rik O'Dean:

    My Irish father often used the term
    “Bet yer Boots” So….. what’s up
    with that

  10. Erick:

    My father (born so long before 1990) uses this phrase occasionally. We live in Canada but his parents were from Britain. It is a combination of “Go for it” and “Take as much as you want.”

    I liked, “It is possible . . . that “fill your boots” originally simply referred to putting on one’s boots in preparation for doing a task, and, by extension, to being equal to that task.” It has the former sense but lacks the take-as-you-please sense of the phrase.

    As a Canadian whose cultural inheritance is British, I would definitely agree that this is a British-ism that is rather dated. I still use it, to great effect.

  11. Louise:

    Like Erick above, I’m from Canada and my father (also born long before 1990) uses this phrase occasionally. When we use it, it has the “go for it” meaning but usually in the context of “if you really want to, then go for it”, especially if he thinks the idea is kind of crazy but is willing to let me do it anyway. In my experience, it totally lacks any sort of implication that this is a duty or responsibility requiring manning up. Another phrase with exactly the same meaning to me is “knock yourself out.”

  12. vic:

    One theory carolean times has it that during Carolean times when cavalry troops wore thigh length boots, they were sometimes given leave to urinate in them if time was pressing. Consequently at informal drinking sessions they would not leave the table and urinate into them. This would seem to correspond with modern usage akin to help yourself to whatever is available.

  13. george:

    well thanks for the various explanations – my interest in trying to find the meaning of this phrase was because one of my favourite English punk bands “Leatherface” that i saw in London (England) in 1990 their 1990 album (that i bought) is titled “FILL YOUR BOOTS” – & then i went and saw/heard ‘Leatherface’ play at the Arthouse in Melbourne Australia (where i now live) when they were touring their 2010 album “The Stormy Petrel” & got to speak with Frankie Norman Warsaw Stubbs singer guitarist & main man of Leatherface – so thanks for filling my boots with your words!

  14. Tania:

    It did mean once literally fill your boots, as in pirates bounty, or cavalrymen on the battle field wearing high boots would go out after the battle, and fill their boots with the ‘booty’ (not Beyonce’s booty, but pickings). But in Ireland where I am from, it loosley now means, do well, get plenty of what you want/need! Usually for free, as in you gain without loss, indulge, get as much of it as you can!

    So if you said you were going off on holiday, I could say, hey fill yer boots man, as in get as much fun as you can etc. But if you said you were going out with a nice girl/boy that you really liked. You could say the same thing, ah fill yer boots man, meaning enjoy it etc. You can say it in ref to most things, when you wish someone well. You wouldn’t however say it in to someone going to a funeral or anything negative!

    Hope that makes sense :D

  15. Shinigami Kayo:

    The term “fill your boots” has been used by many groups and each independently grew into the common language more from the idea or perception than a given action. As in it did not mean to literally fill your boots but has been suggested it did. It is definitely of British origins. The story I heard of its origins falls into an area no one I have seen yet bring up. My ancesters are English and this story actually got handed down through oral stories.
    Sewer work was a less than honored profession but was a necessary one. As London grew a whole industry grew out of this occupation, where as the workers would skim and clean the sewers, they could than sell their work to farms as fertilizer. They would wear masks and other clothing to protect themselves from the filth, and the smell was not for the light hearted. The boots they wore would come up to the knees at times but at times the depth of sewage was pretty high and you had to walk delicately or fear creating waves and have the muck slop up into your boots.
    The term fill your boots was often refered to the rookie worker who would go at the job with gusto and make the rookie mistake of having his feet soaked by the sewage over filling into this boots. The veterens found humor in it as they snickered..yeah, go ahead, fill your boots. The phrase refers to the humerous encouragement of others to dive aggressively into a job with no forethought to consequences.
    The naval connect/mining connection and others may be equally valid and this is an example of a common object simply being the center of a phrase. The earliest example of the manure workers I think goes about to late 1600 early 1700

  16. Sam:

    I am in Australia too and it means, here, at least, to fill your boots and get going. Get it done! (fill ya boots…..put your feet in your boots and GO)

  17. Sam:

    Australian – to fill your boots and get going. Get it done! (fill ya boots…..put your feet in your boots and GO) I am sure the original context was different but then that is the way of all sayings, is it not?

  18. Stephen:

    I am a New Zealander currently living in Australia. fill you boots, prolifically used, in NZ means “go for it” here in Aus whenever I say it i get blank stares…I have yet to meet an aussie who says it or knows what I mean when I say it.

  19. Walter:

    In Newfoundland, same as New Zealand I guess. It just means ‘go for it’. Kinda like an American saying ‘knock yourself out’. It doesn’t mean take a lot of something, it just means if you want to do it, do it!

  20. Tom:

    I’m a Brit who grew up and lives in military circles. This expression is and has been used as a standard slang to mean “help yourself/take as much as you want/go for it” for the last few hundred years within the British military and started in the Navy.

    During the age of Sail the Navy used to use leather drinking cups (not as liable to break in rough seas as glass, china etc.). Because these cups would lose their shape with age and were made of leather they were known as “boots”.

    Life on board was harsh and the men would be given a small ration of “grog” (a mix of rum and water) in their “boots” at the end of their shift to help them relax a little.

    If there was something to celebrate (the King/Queen’s Birthday, or that of the Captain for example) they might expect a double ration. when something truly significant happened (winning in an engagement with the enemy or upon successful return home after a long voyage the men might be told “Fill Yer Boots, Boys!” i.e. “you deserve it lads… you have permission to get well and truly drunk.”

    I’m sorry to say that stories about the Cavalry relieving themselves into their boots is nonsense (I wish these stories were true but alas, no).

    Historically, those who joined Cavalry regiments came from families with money (horses being expensive to buy and keep) and regimental members were expected to supply their own mounts. People with money tended to be brought up “properly” i.e. educated and would be used to the finer things in life. This doesn’t marry with the notion of a bunch of drunks who would be willing to habitually p*ss themselves. love the idea, just not true though…

    to Shinigami Kayo: I haven’t heard of this source before and you do capture the very British mentality of finding someone else’s discomfort amusing perfectly so there may be some truth in here somewhere… however a couple of things don’t quite ring true.

    Firstly, human excrement does not make great fertiliser unless it’s been treated (and it wasn’t until relatively recently). Animal dung is much better and was quite literally lying around for free in the farms back then. However the tanning industry did use this sort of thing for curing and tanning leather in the old days (dog sh*t was highly prised) so there could be something there in terms of supply and demand.

    Secondly, the idea of protective clothing. Not so much… again this is a recent addition thanks to “health and safety”. In the time period we’re talking about we Brits had no problem shoving small children up chimneys to clean them and if the child got stuck then a fire was lit to “encourage” the child to unstick itself and finish the climb… needless to say that the death rate for a chimney sweep’s apprentice was rather high. I only relate this little gem to make the point that if kids were treated that way then, to be honest, if the only option you had to earn some coin was to go down the sewers then you were likely to be extremely unskilled and highly replaceable.. Any “protective gear” you had would be whatever you could fashion for yourself. I also find it hard to believe that anyone would attack that job with “gusto” – seriously… anyone who did that job, did it out of necessity not out of a need to impress anyone.

  21. Thaskypilot:

    “Fill your boots” – An offer to stop talking about it and do it! As in, ‘put your boots on and get in amongst it’.

  22. Mei King Hei:

    I spent 21 years as a tradesman in a Canadian Naval Dockyard. If you had need of something, you’d say, for example, “can I have some of your masking tape,” and the person would reply, “sure, fill your boots.” I assume the expression had been passed down from the Brit Navy.

  23. Arizona:

    It harkens back to the days when the victors in battle would pillage the city or town they laid siege to, using anything they could to take away the plunder….pockets, saddlebags and more often than not, even removing and filling their boots. Thus, they took full advantage of the offer at hand.

    It doesn’t have anything to do with putting your boots on to fulfil a duty.

  24. Beth:

    Yes! Exactly as Louise has stated is how it has traditionally been used in my experience. I have a sense that the notion of “take as much as you want” comes from people mis-using the expression by guessing what it might mean and taking it too literally.

  25. Malcolm Hart:

    I’ve always taken this to mean, particularly because of the context in which I’ve always head it said: “Go ahead, take as much as you want” or “You asked for it, so here it is; dive in”.

    In other words it’s an instruction to for the recipient help themselves and enjoy/benefit from/make the most of whatever activity is they are about to commence. It’s usually spoken by the person who has organised or is providing the activity in question.

    This is in British English at least. I’ve never heard it in the context of “put on your boots and get on with it”.

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