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I came across the words, ‘anything in a skirt” in the following sentence of Jeffery Archer’s “The Fourth Estate”:- Page 202.

“(Captain Armstrong is entitled to a car and driver) if the brigadier wants his daughter’s photo on the front page of Der Telegraph when she visits Berlin next month.” “Why should he want that?” said Armstrong. “My bet is that he can’t get her married off him in England.” said Sally. “And I’ve discovered, anything in a skirt is jumped on over here.”

As I was unfamiliar with the word, ‘anything in a skirt” I consulted Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam Webster English Dictionary. None of them carries this word. However, with the example of the usage of this word on Google search, I was easily able to guess what it means:

My husband is a flirt and sleeps with anything in skirt! He sleeps with girls; women and I have been embarrassed by his frequent affairs with my maids. -

www.nairaland.com/.../husband-flirt-sleeps-anything-

Google Ngram shows that this phrase started to be in use around 1915, and its usage started to sharply rise in 1990s.

Can I use “anything in a skirt“ as a plain alternative to “female” in conversation, particularly with women? Does it have any derogatory nuance or obscene tone, or just is as neutral as ‘women’?

It’s intriguing that the author let a young lady utter this phrase.

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Don't use such expressions in everyday conversation – they do have rather suggestive overtones, in that they are often heard in the context of promiscuous behavior. –  J.R. May 22 '13 at 2:36
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Boy, won't they be surprised when they visit Scotland... –  AviD May 22 '13 at 7:12
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If you go around calling kilts skirts ... boy, won't you be surprised when you visit Scotland. –  Pitarou May 22 '13 at 8:16
    
Cassel's dictionary of slang –  MετάEd May 22 '13 at 14:11
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2 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

It's meant to emphasise the subject's promiscuity. In this form it is a replacement for "any woman" and carries no undertones with respect to women, with the possible exception of implying that wearing skirts is associated with women.

It is certainly not a general or neutral alternative to women in other cases. "Skirt" is often considered a derogatory term for women.

For similar figures of speech, compare "anything with a pulse", or "anything that breathes".

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Or, "anything with two legs," which is another related and oft-used expression, but usually implies "and of the opposite sex." –  J.R. May 22 '13 at 2:27
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I haven't heard that one. Does it include penguins? –  Pitarou May 22 '13 at 4:05
    
@Pitarou I think the implication is yes, for humorous effect. Compare a similar Cantonese saying of a food-related nature: "Anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with its back to heaven is edible." And yes in that saying penguins are definitely included for effect. –  congusbongus May 22 '13 at 5:37
    
Derogatory is a bit strong. Belittling or objectifying, yes, but "You skirt" said to a woman would just sound silly. –  Mitch May 22 '13 at 11:44
    
@Pitarou: No? (1) (2) (3) –  J.R. May 22 '13 at 21:40
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I wouldn't use "anything in a skirt" as a plain alternative to "female" in conversation. If you're referring to grown women, use women. If you're referring to jailbait (girls not legally old enough to have sex with in most states in the USA (usually 18, except in NJ, where 13-year-old boys can legally have sex with 13-year-old girls but 18-year-old boys can't)) as well as grown women, it's probably accurate enough. If you're referring to Mel Gibson in Braveheart (all the Scots in that film wore kilts, and a kilt is a kind of pleated tartan skirt worn by men), then you're talking about something different.

The idiom is used to disparage the man being referred to, as is skirt chaser. It means that he doesn't pay attention to anything except the skirt because it's a stereotypical sign that the person wearing it has a vagina, a sexual organ that he's addicted to whether or not the owner is in any other way attractive. Put a skirt on a ewe and he'd probably try to have sexual congress with it as well.

I'd also say that calling any female a skirt is politically incorrect and demeaning these days, just as it was in the past; however, to say that "John'll jump on anything in a skirt" is probably fine in most conversations. Native English-speakers will know what you mean and are just as likely to use it without fear of offending anyone but "John".

I'd call anything in a skirt a literary as well as a conversational idiom that means something like any female (dead or alive) (but not men wearing kilts).

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This reminds me of Time magazine’s (March 13) article titled “N. Korea criticizes S. Korea President’s ‘Swish of skirt.’” followed with the copy: “The body that controls North Korea’s military is dismissing South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, with a sexist comment about the “venomous swish” of her skirt.” –  Yoichi Oishi May 22 '13 at 3:05
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I'm sure most pundits believe that the North Korean government intended to be offensive. That's an indispensable aspect of Communist polemic style. –  user21497 May 22 '13 at 3:29
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+1. I'd also stress one of Bill's points - "anything in a skirt" describes a group of people whose only defining characteristic is they femininity, their "skirt-wearing". Someone interested in anything in a skirt doesn't care about the person, only their womanhood. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan May 22 '13 at 6:18
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@BillFranke You didn't actually say what we should do if referring to jailbait. That unfinished sentence has generated an air of mystery! –  user867 May 22 '13 at 8:18
    
@user867: Oops! You're right. <(8=O. Sorry about that. I made a small edit to that sentence. Thank you for pointing that out. –  user21497 May 22 '13 at 8:33
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