British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made headlines today when he appeared to call Jeremy Corbyn a — excuse me — “big girl’s blouse” during his first Prime Minister’s Questions session. As the Guardian reports, Johnson became heated after the Labour Party leader asked him to disclose information regarding the government’s no-deal Brexit documents.
Corbyn said Johnson was, “desperate, absolutely desperate to avoid scrutiny,” which prompted the new prime minister to make the outburst. While the term may sound strange to us non-Brits, Johnson’s schoolyard name-calling resulted in Twitter users labeling him as misogynistic, sexist, and homophobic.
What even IS a big girl’s blouse?
Aside from being a commonly worn women’s garment, British people have used the term “big girl’s blouse” as an insult, usually directed toward a man, to imply he is a coward, weak, or effeminate. Or, as my British friend told me, “it’s the equivalent of calling a man a pussy or a wimp.”
Amanda Montell, author of Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, says that the phrase may be “about 50 years old,” and is basically a synonym for a “sissy or a cowardly man with a low pain threshold.” And, in case you’re wondering, it’s not a blouse that belongs to a big girl, but more like a girl’s blouse that’s big, according to an old article from BBC America.
Where did the phrase come from?
It may have originated during the late 1960s from a British comedian named Hylda Baker. Montell says its earliest written record was in a 1969 episode of the British sitcom Nearest & Dearest, in which a character (Baker) insults another by calling him a “big girl’s blouse.” She says it popped up again later in 1986 in a piece for The Guardian when a writer named Stephen Bierley explicitly associated the term with femininity in a negative way, saying a soccer team had been “playing like big girls’ blouses ever since.”
Aussies apparently use the term, as well; there was even an Australian sketch-comedy show called Big Girl’s Blouse that aired in the mid-’90s.
Do people even use the word still?
Maybe “over-promoted rubber bath toys” like Boris Johnson do. In fact, it might be one of his favorite phrases, as The Guardian says Johnson called Labour’s election campaign chief a “big girl’s blouse” in 2017, and also used the term back in 2007. My British friend (who is real) says she doesn’t think it’s “used loads in the modern day,” but it’s definitely a commonly known slur.
So-called world leaders repeatedly making immature, tasteless, and offensive insults? No, that doesn’t sound familiar at all.