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The Real Story Behind the Expression ‘Face the Music’

Alex E. Proimos, Flickr

When a parent, a boss, a co-worker or someone in a position of authority tells us that we have to ‘face the music,’ we know we’ve probably done something wrong, and now we’re in for a bit of trouble.

Where on Earth does this expression come from, though?

There are two likely sources as to how this phrase got started:

Music and the military

A long time ago, when a disgraced soldier or officer was forced out of the military service, he was literally ‘drummed out.’ The discharged man had to march away from his comrades to the accompaniment of a drum roll (how humiliating), a practice that was especially common during the American Civil War.

Actors, the orchestra pit and stage fright

Another possible source for this expression comes from the theater. When an actor had to go out and face the audience, which can be a nerve-racking affair, he or she had to also face the orchestra. In fact, stage actors still do to this very day. The orchestra usually faced the stage. Thus the actor was forced to ‘face the music.’

Imagine a soothing song

So, the next time you find yourself in some trouble, and this expression comes to mind, at least now you can imagine that the musicians are playing a sweet melody as you march off to your impending doom.

[World Wide Word]

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