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This is a part of a podcast called "Norm Macdonald live" The phrase occurs 01:49 into the video:

420 was the birthday of Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the national-socialist German worker's party. A fellow went by the name Adolf Hitler.But this guy.. there's a picture of him... Adolf Hitler..very compelling kind of a figure.. odd looking duck.. there's something about his eyes..hypnotic.His eyes are almost entirely black. He was a decorated veteran of WWI and he joined the...hold the fort..he hated Jews!

Source

He uses the expression as if it means "wait a second" but it means:

"hold (down) the fort"

To maintain the proper functioning or order of some situation or place, typically during someone's absence. (Farlex Dictionary of Idioms)

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  • Definitely an unusual usage of "hold the fort", on the ironic/sarcastic edge of things (which is of course what Macdonald was known for).
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 22:08
  • Knowing how clever Norm was with his use of words, and that the segment was about Four Twenty, I wouldn't be surprised if he was making a play on "hold the four t(wenty)". I miss Norm. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 23:22
  • It's nothing more than a "typo". It's a misspeaking. That's all it is.
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 17:08
  • @Fattie please post an answer explaining to everyone why this question is so simple and obvious to anyone with half a brain. That way I can downvote it, because seeing you repeat the same comment several times over is annoying and very rude to those who put in the effort to post and answer. P.S I was blissfully unaware of the meaning of the American idiom "hold the phone". I've heard of "hold the line", "hold the front page" and "hold (down) the fort" but I was unaware that hold the phone meant waiting for a surprising update. So, would you shoot me for not knowing that?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 19:01
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    I didn't repeat anything, I explained why each answer was wrong. It's a common phenom. on this site that: (A) a question will be asked about something that is literally a typo or a misspeaking. (B) the only total-text answer should be "that is a typo". However (C) there will be numerous answers which (incredibly confusingly) go on and on and on and on positing at length how the typo might have a certain meaning. And (D) regarding the "doubly-irrelevant", if you see what I mean, "could-have-been" phrases, there are long answers discussing (triply-irrelevantly) those phrases.
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 19:16

3 Answers 3

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The context, and the intonation Macdonald uses to deliver the line, make it clear that "meant" to say hold the phone.

hold the phone idiom US informal

used for telling someone to wait, for example because you are going to say something surprising

Cambridge Dictionary

Most likely Macdonald simply flubbed his line, but there's a chance that Macdonald regularly uses hold the fort the way most people use hold the phone. These kinds of mistakenly reused phrases (or words) are called eggcorns.

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    Maybe it's a mistake, maybe it's an intentional mixed metaphor or malapropism as part of his character.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 13:30
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    "Hold the phone" is not a US "idiom" (the dictionary mentioned is hopelessly wrong). (If anything, it's an archaic term of art, something olde-days "manual phone operators" might say; it would be somewhat like asserting "requesting clearance" is an "idiom".) This answer may confuse. Yes, the speaker probably "meant" to say "hold the phone". But "hold the phone" (as well as "hold the fort") is a wrong, incorrect, dumb thing to say. He "meant" to say "hold on now!" or "hold on a minute". Such mixed-up misspeakings are completely ubiquitous in English.
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 19:12
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    I think it's extremely confusing to mention eggcorn here. The actual appropriate phrase should have been "hold on a minute". An eggcorn of "hold on a minute" would be "hold onto a minute" or "hold on a Monet". The guy simply said a different stock phrase. (Hold the fort.) The different phrase, he said perfectly correctly ("hold the fort"). An eggcorn of "hold the fort" might be "hole the fort" or "hold the fart". Eggcorns are fully uninvolved here. The guy simply said the wrong stock phrase.
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 19:21
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That’s not how I would use it, but I don’t think I’d call it wrong.

The literal meaning of “hold the fort” is a military order to guard a strongpoint. (As you’re probably aware from having searched for the meaning, tradition has it that it became popular after a northern victory in the U.S. Civil War, where General William Sherman gave General Corse a similar order by signal flag. Whether or not that is true, the expression is equally popular in the southern U.S. today.)

This story of the battle definitely did inspire a religious hymn by Philip Bliss in 1870, in which it is Jesus signaling his followers on Earth to “Hold the fort, for I am coming.” New lyrics have been written for this melody many times, notably by Socialist unions.

So, in this sense where “Hold the fort,” essentially means, “Wait for me to come back,” the speaker is using “Hold the fort!” like “Wait for it!” That is, wait for him to come back to the topic (which, after acting as if the wait would be long and arduous, he does immediately). Here, the punchline is that this big revelation that he pumped up and made you wait for is something that everyone already knows.

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    This is a well-written answer, with good references and examples. I feel that it's wrong, but only because it's not what "hold the fort" means in my dialect, and it seems to me that "hold the phone" was the expression that the speaker intended. Not downvoting though. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 1:27
  • It means much more than just to wait. Per Collins Dictionary it includes taking responsibility for something while waiting, and such context is not present in the quote. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 15:54
  • In my context of fundamentalist Christian in Pennsylvania, I've heard "hold the fort" often used as an expression of surprise as in: "Hold the fort, that's surprising". A colloquial slang, I guess.
    – D_Bester
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 20:18
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It seems likely to just be a malapropism, with MacDonald meaning to say "hold that thought".

An expression used to interrupt someone mid-speech and indicate that one's attention is being or about to be diverted.
Sorry, Janet, hold that thought—I'm getting a call on the other line.

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  • Beat me to it. 'Hold that thought' came to mind hours after reading it. +1. But still an eggcorn.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 8:14
  • @Mari-Lou A mishearing or misspelling? We can hear well what he says in the video, he says "hold the fort"(especially me, I've expensive Sennheiser headphones and an amplifier-not bragging-ok a little:)) Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 20:42
  • The linked dictionary definition has "hold that thought"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 20:58
  • @StaticBounce Ah, yes, you're right - I should've actually watched the video. I've called it a malapropism, though some people might more generously use "mondegreen". Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 9:56

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