Is pocketbook a common term for wallet in AmEng vernacular, or is it primarily recognized as another word for "purse/handbag"?

If indeed a relatively commonly used word for "wallet/billfold," how do these terms differ from each other?


1. A purse; a handbag.

  1. A pocket-sized folder or case used to hold money and papers; a billfold American Heritage® Dictionary

1: often pocket book : a small especially paperback book that can be carried in the pocket

2: a flat typically leather folding case for money or personal papers that can be carried in a pocket or handbag

3 a : purse b : handbag 2 M-W

: (a) carnet; (b) NAm: (ii) portefeuille; (iii) sac à main; (c) NAm: livre de poche (Source: Harrap's New Shorter French and English Dictionary)

US A wallet, purse, or handbag: she dug a couple of aspirin out of her pocketbook ODO

  1. British.

a notebook for carrying in one's pocket.

a wallet or billfold . Random House


A flat pocket-sized folding case, usually made of leather, for holding paper money, cards, or photographs; a billfold.


A folding pocket-sized case for carrying paper money, small personal documents, and sometimes change.

  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/9112/…
    – user66974
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 19:06
  • 1
    From your dictionary: "US A wallet..." A wallet and a pocketbook are close., about the same size. A pocketbook will have a clasp to shut it but a wallet definitely not. A wallet is definitely not a pocketbook. (or vice versa). A pocketbook is like a very small purse (only very small items like change or small makeup items will fit). Neither are anywhere near like a handbag. Also, 'pocketbook' is pronounced 'pocky-book' informally. A wallet is in no way a purse.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 19:22
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    I'm not sure where @Mitch is from but from my US Midwest background, "pocketbook" (never heard it pronounced pockybook) is what older ladies called their purse, regardless of size, when I was growing up in the 1960's. Among my contemporaries, I do not hear "pocketbook" used at all anymore. Wallets are not called "pocketbook" or "purse", only "wallet" or "billfold". Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 19:37
  • 1
    @KristinaLopez totally agreed on everything you say about meaning. I'm GenAmE/Southern AmE. It always sounded to me like 'pockybook' was surprised when I saw it the first time written as 'pocketbook'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 19:56
  • People overwhelmingly use either wallet or purse nowadays...pocketbook and billfold exist but I have only seen billfold used in commercials to give the product an air of "sophistication" and pocketbook I have heard people from my mom's generation use...sparingly. Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 1:12

3 Answers 3


This interesting extract says the term "pocketbook", referring to a purse, is becoming less common also in the U.S. where it is used to refer to a (hard sided) handbag

  • The largest difference between Canadians and Americans was the American use of the old English term ‘pocketbook’ which originated from a type of wallet that fit into the pocket in the 18th century The term was first used to describe a woman’s hard sided handbag in 1816, as opposed to a drawstring closed soft-sided reticule (aka dorothy bag).

  • Pocketbook is now an archaic word in England and Canada and becoming increasingly scarce in the U.S. but is still used by some to describe the difference between a soft and hard sided handbag.

  • For the English, a wallet is a masculine style of purse, whereas in North America there are men’s and ladie’s wallets, with men’s wallets (aka billfolds) being smaller to fit into back pockets of trousers (or as Americans would say – pants).


enter image description here a pocketbook purse.


I am a native of upstate New York. In my idiolect, "pocketbook" immediately conjures the meaning of "purse/handbag" and never the meaning of "wallet."


My paternal grandfather was born in Ijamsville, Maryland in 1904 and all my life I heard him refer to his wallet as a pocketbook, at least when he was at home. In my teens I asked about it, and he said that is what the locals called a wallet when he was growing up and that once he moved to Washington, D.C. to attend college, it took him many years not remember not to call it that. I've never heard any other person refer to as such, so if that was a Frederick County Maryland colloquialism, it died out by the time I was born in 1962.

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