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What is the origin of the term old bag as a derogatory term for an older lady?

In the UK it is exclusively used to describe females. There appears to be nothing intrinsically feminine about bags. Could it be a corruption of old hag?

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According to this article it dates back to 1924. Isn't really convincing to me that the passage quoted did actually coin the term though. It's not really obvious what the author means if you have never heard the term before IMO. –  Martin Smith Jun 11 '14 at 20:40
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Random parallel: the Danish word sæk means both ‘bag, sack’ and ‘bitch’ (the pejorative term for a woman, not the neutral term for a female dog). This is apparently from German, where Sack used to have the same meaning, but is now just a derogatory slang term for any human. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 23 at 9:23

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Not so much a corruption of old hag as rhyming slang for it. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English quotes Ray Puxley, an expert on Cockney rhyming slang, as suggesting this might be the case.

old bag noun

  1. an unattractive or unloveable old woman, UK 1949

    Disparaging; possibly a variant of OLD BAT, cognisant of OLD BAG (elderly prostitute) which itself may derive from OLD BAT. Ray Puxley, writing in 1992, suggests this may be rhyming slang, formed on 'hag'.

  2. an elderly, slatternly prostitute; hence pejorative for a younger prostitute

    -- Julian Franklyn, A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang, 1961

The Online Etymology Dictionary says it dates from 1924 or earlier but does not give any sources.

Disparaging slang for "woman" dates from 1924 (though various specialized senses of this are much older).

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This is an excellent find. –  phenry Jun 11 '14 at 21:55

I have always thought the "bag" part to be an abbreviation of "baggage", which has long been a pejorative term for a woman, and still is in many parts of the UK and particularly (in my experience) Ireland.

Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1823) confirms this sense of "baggage"

BAGGAGE. Heavy baggage; women and children. Also a familiar epithet for a woman; as, cunning baggage, wanton baggage, &c.

Whether my belief is correct or not, I have found the term in print in 1894, 30 years earlier than etymonline's claim, in a publication called Wales; a national magazine for the English speaking parts of Wales. The passage come in part 11 of a serialisaton of "Enoch Hughes" (originally "Enoc Huws") by Daniel Owen, translated from Welsh by the Hon. Claud Vivian. According to an Amazon reviewer, this translation was from 1892

"I should like to be a scholard, master, to be able to understand business," said Margaret, unconcernedly putting the note on the table and leaving the room.

"You are enough of a scholar for me, you old bag," said Enoch to himself, putting on his boots.

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Could it be bag as in bag of bones gives you old bag?

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Interesting theory. Do you have any evidence for this? –  Chenmunka Mar 23 at 8:36

protected by tchrist Mar 23 at 8:12

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