What is it about a cup of tea? Oh, I know there’s been all sorts of scientific findings about the properties of tea that point to it’s ability to calm, but just now, I find myself calmed as I brew it and carry it upstairs to my office, and I have not yet had one sip.
I pass the red plaque on my wall: Keep Calm and Carry On, and I lift my cup in recognition.
Surely you have seen the slogan. It is everywhere, on plaques, mugs, bookmarks, and t-shirts. The writer of Bagehot’s Notebook, a blog for The Economist calls the slogan a “bracing injunction”– it sure is. I’m fairly certain my back got straighter as I read it. He further says that “It taps directly into the country’s mythic image of itself: unshowily brave and just a little stiff, brewing tea as the bombs fell.”
During World War II, the British government knew that above all they had to keep calm and carry on (I can’t help it; it is the perfect description.) Courage, like panic, is contagious. They were facing the fear of the Nazi army hitting their shores and flowing over the country. In 1939, anonymous clerks in The Ministry of Information office came up with three slogans, advertisements as it were, to boost morale. The first was “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, and Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory” and the second, which I find generates more panic than courage: “Freedom is in Peril.” It is possible it read: “Freedom is in Peril. Defend It with All Your Might,” which I find little better, but quite apt for the world in general today. The posters were quickly printed and place up around the country.
The third, “Keep Calm and Carry On” was hardly seen by the British public. It lay forgotten until an enterprising bookstore owner happened upon it, framed it, and got requests from customers for copies. The rest is history, as is said.
The slogans have now outrun their copyrights and anyone can have them printed. You might enjoy visiting the Keep Calm-o-matic site, where you can make up and print your own slogan. I’m thinking “Keep Calm and Drink Tea.”
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