I was wondering to myself about the word "shirty". It seemed so curious a word. After all, what did its meaning have to do with shirts. "Were the two words even related?", I wondered.

So I looked up "shirty" in the dictionary...

shirty (ˈʃɜːtɪ) — adj , shirtier , shirtiest slang chiefly ( Brit ) bad-tempered or annoyed [C19: perhaps based on such phrases as to get someone's shirt out to annoy someone]

This led me to another question. I have never heard the phrase "get someone's shirt out". So I looked up this, to find out a bit more about the phrase.

And what I found was that the only places it seems to be used were in dictionary definitions of the word "shirty"!

It seems that the phrase means "to annoy someone". But where did this phrase come from and why does it mean that?

  • 1
    It occurs in more places than just the dictionary definitions. – Andrew Leach Nov 29 '12 at 10:29
  • @AndrewLeach: Not a whole lot more. Check the values on the Y-axis. – Robusto Nov 29 '12 at 10:30
  • @Robusto I'm not disputing the number of occurrences; but the dictionaries are reflecting actual usage in print. – Andrew Leach Nov 29 '12 at 10:32
  • This is only a guess, but, when someone gets very upset, they might make a lot of emotive gestures with their arms, causing their shirt to become untucked. Hence, "don't get your shirt out [of your pants]." – J.R. Nov 29 '12 at 10:59
  • NGrams doesn't seem to agree with the dictionary's statement that "shirty" dates back to 1846, and is derived from the phrase. – Urbycoz Nov 29 '12 at 13:33

The idiom seems to be the opposite of keep one's shirt on. After a bit of Googling, I found the following reason which makes perfect sense to me:

So what does all this shirt business have to do with being annoyed? A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge suggests that it comes from the custom of taking off one’s shirt before fighting. I wouldn't argue with that.

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  • 1
    So it doesn't mean "to annoy someone"? It means "to become annoyed". – Urbycoz Nov 29 '12 at 12:38
  • So the dictionary is wrong? Or am I mis-parsing the dictionary definition of shirty- "Origin: 1840–50; shirt, in the phrase get someone's shirt out to annoy." – Urbycoz Nov 29 '12 at 13:36
  • I think you're misinterpreting the definition. To get someone's shirt out means to annoy someone, so someone is annoyed by someone else. For example, he's getting my shirt out means he's annoying me, therefore I'm getting annoyed by him! – Gigili Nov 29 '12 at 14:03
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    @Urbycoz: What Gigli said. But imho all variants except to get shirty are at least dated, if not archaic. There is no modern form involving the word "shirt" that means "to annoy someone". Go for something like get his goat, bug him, get on his nerves, or wind him up if you want an informal slang term for annoy; provoke; bother; irritate – FumbleFingers Nov 29 '12 at 23:49
  • Prominent example confirms: it's used in Cyclops chapter of Ulysses, first page -- sorry for offensive context, but a debt collector working for a Jewish tea merchant, relates a defiant message from the debtor and narrates: "I had to laugh at the little jewy getting his shirt out." – Levin Magruder Apr 21 '19 at 22:45

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