Like it or lump it
As an alternative to a fait accompli or Hobson’s choice, we use like it or lump it to indicate that you can either take what is offered or leave empty handed. The implication of the phrase is that you won’t be too happy either way.
The interesting aspect of the phrase is the use of lump as a verb. We are more familiar with it as a noun meaning a compact, often irregular, mass of something like coal. Indeed, it has had this meaning since at least the start of the 14th century. We have carried this sense into its use as a verb as in lump things together, collect, classify or put them together, a usage it has had since the 17th century. However, this cannot be the sense in our phrase because what we are looking for is an antonym to like.
Help comes in the not inconsiderable form of Richard Stanyhurst, the Irish alchemist and historian, who wrote in 1577 his Treatise Describing Irelande. There he described the Irish thus; “they stand lumping and lowring, fretting and fuming.” It is quite clear from the usage and context that Stanyhurst meant it to give the sense of being disagreeable or sulky. That this is the case was corroborated four years later in a passage from Barnaby Rich’s Farewell Military Profession where he wrote, “she beganne to froun, lumpe and lowre at her housbande” – a not unfamiliar state of affairs in many a household throughout time.
So by the turn of the 17th century one sense of lumping it was to pull a long face and to give some visible sign of disgust or disagreement. However, it wasn’t until the late into the 18th century that lump it appeared in a phrase in opposition to like. An article appeared in the Universal Asylum and Colombian Magazine, published in Philadelphia in August 1790, entitled Thoughts on Proverbs. The columnist was discussing another proverb but made reference to a variant of our phrase by way of an obiter; “throw your lump where your love lies plainly argues that every lover ought to make a beneficial settlement on his beloved. But I will not be positive as to this solution, since another proverb as you like it, you may lump it contradicts it.”
Quite why the writer thought the two phrases contradictory is not clear as lump is used as a noun in the first and a verb in the second. Whatever the cause of the confusion is, what we can take away from this reference is that lump and like were associated in some form of saying in the 18th century and that, probably, it was reasonably well known. It certainly was by 1807 because The Monthly Mirror, a London journal, was able to make a, for the time, mildly amusing pun in its September issue. “Mrs_ purposely sends a dish of tea to a lady, without sugar, of which she complains. Mr_ (handing her the sugar basin) [says] well, ma’am, if you don’t like it, you may lump it.”
I can imagine that had ‘em rolling in the salons and sitting rooms of London. To work as a pun, feeble as it may be, it would require an acquaintance with the phrase. But although it is close to our phrase, it is not quite there. We get there in 1841 with Josiah Sheppey’s Specimens which was a collection of inspirational essays in verse form. “..forces, or like it or lump it,/ Himself, honest fellow, to blow his own trumpet.”
If you don’t like this explanation, you can lump it!