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Be warned, today’s phrase puts a light-hearted and affectionate spin on a thought which, coming from the wrong mouth, could be take the wrong way. Colorful though it may be, you can’t heap accusations of weakness and femininity and spinelessness into a big pile and lob it at someone – no matter how kindly you mean it – without appearing a little prejudiced.

That said, there are definitely occasions when the right phrase is required for motivational purposes. You don’t have to be a drill sergeant to want to kick a bit of oomph into your nearest and dearest sometimes, and as we all know, shame is a powerful motivating force. So, should the man of your household be confining himself to bed just because he has a cold, should your mum claim to be too tired to spend time with you, should your best friend cry off a night on the tiles because they have to get up early in the morning, here is a British expression that may come in useful, coming straight off the hard streets of Manchester: you big girl’s blouse.

It should be noted that this does not refer to the blouse of a big girl, it’s a girl’s blouse, and you are a big one. To begin an insult with big is a measure of the extent to which the insultor believes the insultee embodies the characteristic he or she is alluding to. You’re not just a girl’s blouse, damning as that may be, you’re a BIG girl’s blouse.

The origin of the phrase is lost, but the implication is clear. You’re flapping like a lightweight item of clothing, you look the part but you’ve no substance. You might have ideas above your station, and some fancy book learning, but you’d be of little use in a practical situation. You’re a big wet nellie.

Ironically, for a phrase which could be read as both misogynist AND homophobic, its popularity spread via the British comedienne Hylda Baker, who used it as part of her act portraying a hard-as-nails Mancunian spinster who took no prisoners and brooked no foolishness. And because of its inherent warmth, it still pops up today, out of the mouths of bickering family members who want to chivvy someone out of their bubble or down from their cloud. It may have originally applied to men, to be more barbed to the male psyche, but it’s fairly evenly applied now. There’s feminism for you, girls can be big girl’s blouses too.

And you have to admit, it’s a lot less troublesome than that drill sergeant line about steers. Now drop and gimme 20.

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Filed Under: Fraser's Phrases
By Fraser McAlpine