Big Girl Panties

Dear AC,

Recently we've seen the phrase “big-girl panties” in Time Magazine and Christopher Buckley's novel, Boomsday. It is also available as a slogan on some gift shop items we've seen. People in my office use the phrase like this, “It's time to hike up your big-girl panties and get to work.”

Nobody here seems to have any idea of where the phrase came from, or whether we're using it correctly. I've searched your site, numerous other online slang dictionaries, Wikipedia and Google without finding even a hint that the phrase exists. Do you have any information? We're finding it a useful addition to our conversation, but really wish we knew for sure what we were saying!



Dear Savannagh,

Something tells me that, like me, you don't have kids! I have seen a few mentions of big-girl panties online where the writer is referring to women's underwear with full coverage. Briefs with low leg-hole openings that come up to the waist (as opposed to bikini underwear or a thong) are also known as granny-panties because the style is considered old-fashioned (like your grandmother would wear).

But that garment could more accurately be called "big panties." (If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, rent Bridget Jones' Diary. In a pivitol scene, she agonizes over whether to wear granny-panties that can control her stomach under a tight dress or sexy ones that will look better when she takes the dress off.)

The phrase you're asking about doesn't come from that kind of underwear. Big girl panties, in the eyes of little girls, are “real,” “grown up” underwear. Toddlers who learn to use the toilet feel more adult (like a big girl) when they stop wearing diapers. Thus, the phrase "hike up (or pull up) your big-girl panties and get to work (or deal with it/get on with it/get over it ) means that you should stop complaining and act like an adult. And about the usage — it's not sympathetic!

Your pal,


A. C. Kemp

April 23, 2007

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