Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Whistle britches

 I bumped up against the phrase whistle britches, and thought whaaaaaaat??

So do any of you know what whistle britches means? Or where it came from?

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Well, this is what I found....

A Way with Words defines whistle britches as "a Southern term for fellows who draw a lot of attention to themselves, comes from the sound corduroy trousers make when you walk and the wales rub against each other" and has a short (5-minute) audio session about whistle britches. (A Way with Words is a fascinating site, btw... heartily recommended for word nerds. I can personally attest that there is great danger of falling in and not emerging for some hours. But back to britches...)

A Google group conversation dove into whistle britches back in 1995 (egads, they had Google groups that far back??). You can read the thread here. The previous definition comes up in the discussion, but one poster said that's wrong, adding "it's a southern term of endearment meaning someone who is very physically attractive, especially in jeans, slacks, etc that because of such could garner whistles from men because of her figure." Another poster said this is a Southern term dating to the Depression era for someone who suffers from (ahem) flatulence. A third comments "My father called me 'whistle britches' affectionately. He grew up during the depression (but on the North Shore of Massachusetts). I thought it referred to one whose pants had so many holes the wind whistled through them."

Words and Phrases of the Past defines it as the trousers themselves, aka "corduroy pants," and provides a date of 1900. My hardcopy of Green's Dictionary of Slang agrees with that definition (although opting for whistling-BREECHES). For reference, Green's points to (taking a deeep breath here) Slang and its analogues past and present. A dictionary, historical and comparative of the heterodox speech of all classes of society for more than three hundred years. With synonyms in English, French, German, Italian, etc (Vol. VII) by John Stephen Farmer and William Ernest Henley, publication date 1904. I checked it out, and sure enough, there it is!

To add to the etymological variety of this phrase, The Online Slang Dictionary defines whistle britches as "a term for anybody whose name you don't know."

Choices, choices. I guess that if I ever use the term whistle-britches/breeches in a story, I'd better define it.

Whistle while you walk in a pair of these.
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

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