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“Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat Evolution of a Phrase




Ralph Keyes, editor of a book of quotations, asked about the origins of WSCs famous “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” He refers us to “Churchill the Phrase Forger” by longtime CC academic contributor Manfred Weidhorn (Quarterly Journal of Speech, April 1972; reprinted in Churchill’s Rhetoric and Political Discourse, Lanham, Md., University Press of America, 1987):

In the Boer War books, Churchill noted the growing enemy might and worried lest the result would be expressed in terms of “blood and tears”…. The phrase in its renowned form first appeared before World War II and not in a speech. In an article written during the late stages of the Spanish Civil War, he observed that the Republican side was becoming more disciplined and civilized; new structures were being erected on “blood, sweat, and tears.”


This in turn set us off on an intense search through our digital archives for the evolution of the phrase. Indeed Churchill first used it in a talk with M. Grobelaar, Boer Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, during WSCs imprisonment in Pretoria following his capture in the armoured train skirmish. See The Boer War (reprint of London to Ladysmith via Pretoria and Ian Hamilton’s March) New York: Norton, 1990, page 75:

Self. “My opinion [that Britain will win] is unaltered, except that the necessity for settling the matter has become more apparent. As for the result, that, as I think Mr. Grobelaar knows, is only a question of time and money expressed in terms of blood and tears.”

One year later Churchill used the phrase again, in his article “Officers and Gentlemen,” The Saturday Evening Post, 29 December 1900:

As we have frequent little local manoeuvres, so there must be greater ones, all carefully supervised, at longer intervals. And the knowledge gained at every manoeuvre must be used remorselessly to control the progress of mediocre men up the military ladder; to cast the bad ones down and help the good ones towards the top. It will all seem very sad and brutal in times of peace, but there will be less blood and tears when the next war comes.

Churchill’s memory for great phrases was long.

Nearly forty years later, in his article “Will There Be War in Europe—and When?” {News of the World, 4 June 1939, also published slightly abridged as “War, Now or Never” in Colliers, 3 June 1939 and reprinted entirely in the Collected Essays, vol. 1, Churchill wrote of the coming war in Europe (page 443):

Although the sufferings of the assaulted nations will be great in proportion as they have neglected their preparations, there is no reason to suppose that they will not emerge living and controlling from the conflict. With blood and tears they will bear forward faithfully and gloriously the ark which enshrines the tide deeds of the good commonwealth of mankind.


Churchill resurrected “blood” and “tears” and added “sweat” in his World War I memoir, The World Crisis, vol. V, The Eastern Front, (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1931, page 17): in the first chapter, when he wrote about the devastating battles between the Russians and the Central Powers:

These pages recount dazzling victories and defeats stoutly made good. They record the toils, perils, sufferings and passions of millions of men. Their sweat, their tears, their blood bedewed the endless plain.


Manfred Weidhorn refers to an article (which contains “toil” but not the others): “How To Stop War” was indeed written in the late stages of the Spanish Civil War, and published in The Evening Standard of 12 June 1936. It was reprinted in Churchill’s book of essays entitled Step by Step: 1936-1939 (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1939). From page 25 of that book:

Nearly all the countries and most of the people in every country desire above all things to prevent war. And no wonder, since except for a few handfuls of ferocious romanticists, or sordid would-be profiteers, war spells nothing but toil, waste, sorrow and torment to the vast mass of ordinary folk in every land.

Finally, as Weidhorn informs us in his essay, the “renowned phrase” of “blood, sweat and tears” came together in the article “Can Franco Restore Unity and Strength to Spain?” {Daily Telegraph, 23 February 1939), reproduced in Step by Step under title title, “Hope in Spain.” From page 319 of the book:

But at length regular armies come into the field. Discipline and organisation grip in earnest both sides. They march, manoeuvre, advance, retreat, with all the valour common to the leading races of mankind. But here are new structures of national life erected upon blood, sweat and tears, which are not dissimilar and therefore capable of being united. What milestone of advantage can be gained by going farther? Now is the time to stop.


But although “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” became the “renowned phrase” (and the American/Canadian title for Churchill’s first book of Second World War speeches) , it was not actually what he said to Parliament on 13 May 1940 in one of the two or three most immortal speeches of the war. What he said was: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” And “toil,” although it was a favorite word of his, did not join “blood,” “tears” and “sweat” until May 1940. 


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