A big girl’s blouse

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A birthday card

A birthday card

On Saturday, 7th September 2019, Willem Vogelsang wrote:

I was a bit puzzled lately about this phrase, used by such British luminaries as Boris Johnson. He used it, apparently under his breath, when talking about Jeremy Corbyn. I asked my own Brexit refugee here in Leiden about it, but she had no clue either. Admittedly, she has been living in Europe (!) for some 35 years and may have missed essential developments in English idiom. Also, she never went to Eton, which seems to preclude anyone from joining the ruling British establishment and the likes of Johnson (unless you marry a Russian plutocrat, but she hooked up with an impoverished Dutch academic).

Of course I could ask my mother-in-law, who some years ago told her hairdresser (I should not have listened to her telephone call) that she had a son-in-law who had a ‘reasonable’ command of English. (What about her command, I always wondered, she lived for a long time in Yorkshire, so who is the foreigner?) Should I ring her? Put her to the test? Perhaps better not. A call from Europe early in the morning would ruin anyone’s day in England.

Anyhow, what is this big girl’s blouse? At first I thought it referred to a blouse filled up by a big girl. Big, as in well-endowed (another recent development in the English language, I noticed). That, it soon became clear, was not the case.

So, my research (carried out in bed this morning), told me the phrase refers to a big blouse for a girl. So what does that mean? I have had to deal with the Brits for some time, and I know that the word ‘girl’ is not always appreciated when applied to, what I think is now called a young woman. So the ‘big girl’s blouse’ is apparently somewhat derogatory.

But what the heck is wrong with a big blouse for a girl /young woman? At that stage my research descended to the next level. I found a wonderful website that provided me with the information that I so urgently needed. The phrase seems to originate from northern England (well, my in-laws come from Yorkshire, so there you are; perhaps I should ring my mother-in-law after all).

When applied to a man it means that he is somewhat effeminate, but at the same time it is not really abusive. There is something teasing about it. The phrase seems to be used by now all over the Anglo-Saxon world, unknown to me (but I am European, so what do I know). There even seems to be an Australian feminist comedy series with that title. I am proud to say I did not know that either. So there you are: a girl’s blouse as an item of apparel has reached dazzling depths of fame. The world of dress is full of surprises.

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