What is the origin of the term "my bag"? As in,

That's just not my bag.

I know what it means. Essentially, for the example above, it would mean "That's not my sort of thing."

I know it's been around a while, since 60s hero Austin Powers was always saying it. So I'm guessing it's 60s slang, that's still hanging on today.

But why a "bag"? Did "bag" get used to mean a generic thing in other context? Is it short for something, or rhyming slang. Any ideas?

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    Not sure if its the same, but I've heard and use - That's just not my bag of tea. I wonder if "my bag" is just short for "my bag of tea"... "my cup of tea" is another, similar phrase. "That's not my sort of thing." is exactly what "not my bag/cup of tea" means.
    – Justin808
    Oct 2, 2012 at 7:51
  • @Justin808 Interesting thought. I'd never have thought of that.
    – Urbycoz
    Oct 2, 2012 at 7:59
  • Definitely an interesting thought, but unlikely to be true. Interesting notion to have flutter by, though.
    – J.R.
    Oct 2, 2012 at 8:10
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    @coleopterist That's definitely not my thing. Or bag. Or cup of tea. Or indeed, anything else.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 2, 2012 at 8:17
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    An interesting, non-athoratative, read "not my bag" may be a drug reference in relation to preferred choice, this also fits with the 60s theme.
    – Justin808
    Oct 2, 2012 at 8:18

3 Answers 3



The OED defines this bag as:

c. fig. A preoccupation, mode of behaviour or experience; a distinctive style or category; esp. a characteristic manner of playing jazz or similar music. Cf. bag of tricks at sense 18a. slang (orig. U.S.).

1960 J. Hendricks in D. Cerulli et al. Jazz Word (1962) 140 Lack of acceptance is a drag... Man, that's really in another bag.
1962 Jazz Jrnl. Mar. 30 ‘Bag’ is a current piece of trade jargon for hip musicians, and means something between a personal style and a body of work.

They further say:

(not) to be one's bag slang (orig. U.S.): (not) to match one's personal style, taste, or preference; (not) to form part of one's interest, preoccupation, or area of expertise. Usually in negative contexts. Cf. thing *n.*1 4d.

1966 N.Y. Times 20 Nov. d13/2 They were trying to categorize me..as a racial satirist, but that's not my bag. Let's say I deal in universal human foibles.

1961 examples

I found some 1961 examples of this sense of bag.

Billboard magazine (6 Nov 1961) contains the following in a list of new LPs to be released by Verve. Cal Tjader was a Latin jazz musician and Verve Records is an American jazz record label

IN A LATIN BAG— Cal Tjader— V-V6-8419 (Nov.)
THE TRIO— Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen— V-V6-8420 (Nov.)

Billboard of 20th November 1961 has an advert from Verve:

IN A LATIN BAG-Cal Tjader's torrid group in a program of crackling Latin-American jazz. Sensational sound!

And Billboard of the following week (27 Nov 1961) has a review:

IN A LATIN BAG Cal Tjader. Verve V 8419— Here's a warm and winning jazz set, which which combines Latin rhythms with jazz, and does it stylishly. Cal Tjader, with Armando Peroza, Paul Horn, Al McKibbon, Wilfredo Vicent, Johnny Re and Lonnie Hewitt, handle the charts with ease, and the disk marks a noteworthy debut for Tjader on the label. The tunes are mainly originals, sparked by by Tjader's "Davito" and "Paunetos Point," plus good readings of "Speak Low," and "Ben Hur," from the current flick. Lucid, meaningful jazz here.

A snippet of Down beat magazine dated 1961 includes a review of Tina Brooks' True Blue album, released in 1960:

Soul is appropriately earthy, medium tempoed, and melodically a bit doubtful as to what jazz bag it belongs in.

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    +1 Bingo. And by 6/2/65 it's in the pop world with James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag". Oct 3, 2012 at 21:42
  • I've been reading "The New Mrs. Clifton" by Elizabeth Buchan and one of the characters just used the expression "that's not my bag" ... in 1945. I know that expression wasn't around until the 1960s. It's disconcerting when someone makes such an obvious error and you're left wondering how an editor didn't catch it if the author was remiss. Buchan is such a good writer, I'm puzzled.
    – Christine
    Aug 20, 2017 at 22:11

Etymonline.com is usually the best place to check for that sort of thing. That site reads:

Meaning "person's area of interest or expertise" is 1964, from Black English slang, from jazz sense of "category," probably via notion of putting something in a bag.

When you first asked the question, I wondered if the origin might have had something to do with a tea bag, since, if something is my bag, it's generally also my cup of tea. Apparently not; according to Phrase Finder:

People or things with which one felt an affinity began to be called 'my cup of tea' in the 1930s. Nancy Mitford appears to be the first to record that term in print, in the comic novel Christmas Pudding, 1932:

I'm not at all sure I wouldn't rather marry Aunt Loudie. She's even more my cup of tea in many ways.

  • +1. Exactly. I read the same thing here.
    – Noah
    Oct 2, 2012 at 7:50
  • Based on the OPs given meaning "That's not my sort of thing." I think he is referring to my bag of tea.
    – Justin808
    Oct 2, 2012 at 7:56
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    @Justin808 If you believe that and can back it up (so it's not just a personal supposition) then make it an answer. It may well be that JR/Etymonline is correct and bag of tea derived from bag as "category" by analogy with "cup of tea", rather than the other way round.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 2, 2012 at 7:59
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    @Justin: One website I found shows that cup of tea goes back to at least the 1930s. If "that's my bag" is really from 1960s Black English slang (which seems plausible), then the the word bag being related to tea bag would be almost surely coincidental.
    – J.R.
    Oct 2, 2012 at 8:03
  • @AndrewLeach - Not posting an answer because I have nothing to back it up other than I use it as do my friends/family :)
    – Justin808
    Oct 2, 2012 at 8:09

Ok, I can remember the '60's and I was there. . .in New York City, LA, SF, etc. it's not a reference to tea, but a musician's expression. I hung out with some of them. To the best of my memory, the saying was actually: "It's not IN my bag," short for: "it's not in my bag of tricks." Then, the word "in" was dropped by roughly 1975, and the expression became "it's not my bag." It is my recollection that "bag of tricks" referred to what you did, liked, etc. So, "It's not my bag" means "I'm not into it."

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