What does the contraction 'er and the phrasal verb patch 'er up mean in the following text:

This section will cover a lot of ground and your brain may meltdown a few times, but don’t worry, that’s just a flesh wound. Patch ‘er up and keep going!

  • 11
    FYI: 'er and 'im (her/him) are elisions, not contractions (though contractions are based on elision)
    – Yorik
    Aug 3, 2018 at 15:28
  • 1
    @Yorik - seconded. ...but my brain will never leave me alone whenever I hear that word - what's missing in kyrie & elision? [sorry, it's bad pun day ;) Aug 3, 2018 at 15:42
  • 4
    I think it's worth noting that: 'em' is often used for 'them'. Sometimes pronounced like "um" and many phrases will never be heard with the full 'them': e.g. "read 'em and weep"
    – JimmyJames
    Aug 3, 2018 at 20:21
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    "just a flesh wound" is a phrase from Monty Python BTW Aug 4, 2018 at 21:07

4 Answers 4


It normally means "her", but often in terms of an inanimate object like a car or a boat.

I guess the quote is treating your brain as the 'inanimate object', just stretching the metaphor a bit.

To "patch something up" is to make running repairs, rather than take it to the garage/dry dock/... doctor ;) & get your car/boat/brain back into working order using whatever you have to hand - a hammer, sticky tape, some chewing gum... or just a cup of coffee ... & get back to work.

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    – user230
    Aug 4, 2018 at 18:01

It is a contraction of her, found in some regional accents.

Dropping h's is a feature of a few different regional accents and dialects, and while people who speak that way will endeavor to spell words correctly when writing, authors will sometimes try and imitate the way a person speaks when writing dialogue so that the reader can imagine their accent, adding to the atmosphere.

"Patch her up" means to repair a vehicle, as vehicles are often referred to affectionately in the female gender.

  • 1
    Excellent answer, excellent answer, but I think if you actually looked at a spectrogram, you'd probably find extremely few people actually pronounce a distinct /h/ in "patch her up" in normal speech. The /h/ is probably more likely to end up in aspiration of the <ch>. But there again I think in some accents it will be more noticeable
    – Au101
    Aug 3, 2018 at 17:32
  • I would argue it's closer (in meaning) to "patch it up" since I don't hear "'er" used to refer to a female person but only to inanimate things (in this case the "brain" is being discussed as if inanimate). I cannot recall someone saying "If you have a problem, call'er, she'll be happy to help"
    – Sled
    Aug 3, 2018 at 21:08
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    @ArtB My Eastern Canadian (Nova Scotia) accent would often drop the h, unless there was a specific emphasis on "her". I would say "call 'er over", but "What's HER problem?" Aug 3, 2018 at 22:30

It is not a real contraction. "Patch 'er up" is slang for saying "patch it up", with it being your brain in this instance. I know that sailors used to refer to their boats as female, and would say things like "Look at her go", for example, which is where this could have originated from.

To me, this entire sentence is basically saying "This section is going to have a lot of information and you might feel overwhelmed, but keep going and you will eventually understand".


In very informal English, the third person pronouns can get their pronunciations changed:

  • him - 'im
  • her - 'er
  • it - et (pronunciation only, still spelt "it")
  • them - 'em

The cause is the same in all cases: the start is weakened. The /h/ which is already a weak sound is lost altogether, the /ɪ/ in "it" gets reduced to a schwa: /ə/, and the /ð/ in "them" requires more effort to say correctly than some other sounds, making it easy to drop in relaxed speech.


  • Knock 'im down!
  • Patch 'er up!
  • Do et!
  • Get 'em!

Note that in each case the word is still treated as separate.

So, the 'er in Patch 'er up simply means "Patch her up", which means "make a minor repair to it". The use of "her" (or "him") to stand in for "it" is again only used in informal speech, with the exception of referring to impressive machinery as "her" or "she". E.g. "She's a fine ship!"

Patch 'er up! is not something you'd say in formal or careful speech.

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