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Where does the term come from, where in the world is the term used?

I came across the usage in this article, with this paragraph as quoted:

Keara O'Neil was on a shopping trip to find bridesmaid dresses for her wedding and a frock for her hens night at the GASP Chapel St store on September 24 when she had a dispute with a sales assistant named "Chris".

So now that I've been sufficiently reminded to use Wiktionary and the like, I see that the reference is rather old to meaning "a women's party" and pretty much to mean the sort of thing where gossiping is expected to be a large part of the event. What I'm curious about now is:

Since I don't hear this a lot in the US in the South, where is this phrase used? How popular is it? Is it considered antiquated? Hyperbole?

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Etymonline lists hen as a term for women originating in the 1620s and "hen party" 1887; hen night in Wiktionary is also listed as synonymous with bachelorette party, but specific to UK/Australian English. Is there something more specific you're still wondering about after looking in the dictionary? –  aedia λ Oct 1 '11 at 22:41
    
I didn't think of trying wiktionary or a similar reference directly, a google search did not bring up anything besides sales ads right away. –  jcolebrand Oct 1 '11 at 23:00

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

A hen party or hen night specifically refers (in the UK) to what is called a "bachelorette party" in the US - there will be drinking, possibly a stripper, certainly some raucous laughter and dirty jokes. I wouldn't expect it to mean any random party featuring lots of women, nor any of the specialized women-only parties like a baby shower or wedding shower. This image search should give you a rough idea what's involved. The big L thing is the symbol that normally goes on a car for a learner driver, and implies the bride-to-be is a "learner" who is about to start having sex. I know that doesn't make much sense, but it's tradition.

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The term is definitely in common use in Australia, and the male version is a buck's or stag night. –  Cam Jackson Oct 4 '11 at 3:27

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