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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

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 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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Is that a typo? Old bat derives from ... Old bat? –  Martin Smith Jun 11 '14 at 21:06
That's what it said in Google Books. I wasn't sure whether to transcribe it verbatim or edit it. Following your comment I found a clearer copy on docstoc.com and have edited my answer accordingly -- although it's not much clearer now :-) –  Frank H. Jun 11 '14 at 21:38
This is an excellent find. –  phenry Jun 11 '14 at 21:55

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