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The idiom put hair(s) on someone's chest means:

Fig. to do or take something to invigorate or energize someone, always a male, except in jest: Here, have a drink of this stuff! It'll put hair on your chest. That stuff is powerful. It will really put hair on your chest.

[McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002]

I have known this idiom for a while and as the above dictionary indicates, I always believed this idiom could be used only for males or boys.

According to BBC Learning English broadcast on Dec. 15, 2015, it says it could be used for women as follows:

Feifei: Well, last night I was in the pub with some friends, it was getting late and they were starting to drink shots of liquor; one of my friends was encouraging me to give it go and he said “Drink it, it’ll put hairs on your chest!” What did he mean? Why would liquor put hairs on my chest? I do not want hairs on my chest!

Rob: Haha, I’m sure you don’t but that’s very funny, Feifei. ‘It’ll put hairs on your chest’ in that context means it’s good for you, it’ll make you a strong man or a woman!

Feifei: To have hairs on my chest means I’m a strong person? What a strange expression!

  1. Can this expression be used to women? I would really like to get some input/answers from female members of this community on whether it would be considered offensive even if it is used in jest.

  2. What is etymology of this expression? The linked Ngram Viewer shows that the expression started around 1915.

  • 2
    It can be used with respect to men, women and children. – Baz Dec 27 '15 at 18:03
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    Yes, it can be used when speaking to a woman, but do so with caution. It's not specifically offensive, nor is it necessarily sexually suggestive. Women though, may have a different reaction to the phrase than men. — I agree with you that it will be helpful to see some responses to your question from women. I suspect some will receive it quite differently than others. – ElmerCat Dec 27 '15 at 18:15
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    I would not suggest saying this to a woman unless you know her well enough that she will take it with good nature. Some women might, eg, take it as an accusation of being lesbian or trans. – Hot Licks Dec 27 '15 at 19:52
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    since it is akin to "man up", current rules of behavior recommend against proferring any such sexist remarks, regardless of whether the object's and/or audience's gender. – tony gil Dec 27 '15 at 23:52
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    @Schilcote anything gender related which determines as desirable something which only one gender (male) can achieve, is SEXIST. "man up", "hair on chest", "have the balls", "the right man for the job", "you guys" - all sexist and by contemporary convention should be banned/avoided. – tony gil Dec 28 '15 at 12:15
9

The answer to Part 1 of your question is It depends

It depends on:

  • The age of the woman to whom you are speaking (don't, if she is over 25)

    Your age relative to her age (should be about the same, and it is OK if you are obviously senile)

    The sense of humor of the woman (it should be earthy and robust)

    How much you care about your relationship with the woman (if you care, be careful)

    Whether there are other people around (If she feels she has to fake being a good sport, you are dead)

Never say anything like that if you are in a position to influence her career.

There is nothing to be gained by such a remark, and much to be lost. It is not a mere extension of addressing a group of men and women as "you guys".

Think of the reverse: How would it strike you if a woman told a chubby man that he should wear a bra? (Not an exact analogy, but close enough.)

  • "If she feels she has to fake being a good sport, you are dead" what does this mean? – Zaibis Dec 28 '15 at 12:26
  • @Zaibis It means she will be really, really annoyed with you and will write you off as a creep. – ab2 Dec 28 '15 at 13:55
5

The movie "Willow" had Val Kilmer use this expression in reference to the young princess. So in short yes it can be used as in there is no codified prohibition against it. You can also use it literally, for example a woman about to begin gender reassignment, the doctor could tell her the hormone therapy will put hair on her chest. As an aside I think to use the plural "hairs" is uncessary as "hair" is a mass noun.

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    She's a princess and the last thing she needs is a hairy chest! – MikeTheLiar Dec 28 '15 at 14:45
  • 'Hairs' has a slightly different meaning from 'hair', here. Hairs has the sense there was no hair there previously. It also rolls off the tongue better - 'hairzonyourchest!' Hair has the sense somewhat, that there was some hair, or a body of hair on your chest, already, but that this adds more. Which is not so funny. This phrase is funniest when there were no hairs previously, as it's a contrast - especially if said to a woman - who presumably, wouldn't want them there anyway! – Jelila Jan 18 '18 at 4:09
3

I think it means it will give me the feeling of discomfort and unfamiliarity and the momentary delusion of feeling like a full-grown chest-beating growling man, and I would be able to strut my feathers like a peacock, the stuff being in lieu of having actual feathers on your chest. And be the focus of envy for weeks to come. Regardless if you actually wished for hair on your chest.

Like the Camel or Marlborough advertised feeling.

  • This doesn't answer either part of the question. – Matt E. Эллен Dec 28 '15 at 0:06
  • It answers part #1 of the question. – Blessed Geek Dec 28 '15 at 1:43
  • Your answer does not cover anything to do with offensiveness. – Matt E. Эллен Dec 28 '15 at 18:41
  • Do I have to be explicit in saying whether I am offended? I am an autistic girl. "Offended" is a very vague term. Everyone has their own definition of "offended". "Offended" is a spatial continuum. I simply expressed precisely how I feel - you have to fit this set of precise feelings into your frame of reference for the definition of "offended". I do not have the capacity to understand "offended". – Blessed Geek Dec 29 '15 at 3:31
  • You do not have to say whether you are offended. What is asked is to state whether women would find it offensive and why. – Matt E. Эллен Dec 29 '15 at 13:45
-2

I've always thought this phrase was intended for children, or perhaps a young adult who is effectively being called a child. The implication being that men are hairy. By the way, it's not necessarily a safe assumption. My father had some chest hair, but not a whole lot. As a 38 year old male, I have less: none. Still haven't grown hair on the center of my chest. I've got plenty of short hairs on my mid to lower arms, but no big collection of chest hairs.) One could speculate that I just didn't drink enough of that stuff.

As a boy, I've been known to cry, complain, or (in some way) express unhappiness when I would receive pain. My father would assess the damage, and would frequently tell me, "Aw, don't worry about it. You'll get better before you're an old lady."

I would say that if you want to stereo-type, the "hair on the chest" seems to be an equivalent. My findings, when I've tried the "old lady" comment: YMMV (results can vary), based on recipient.

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