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A person holding a handbag.


From hand +‎ bag. The music genre is named from women dancing around a pile of their handbags in nightclubs. The verb is a reference to Margaret Thatcher's handbag.[1]


  • (UK, US) IPA(key): /ˈhændˌbæɡ/, /ˈhæm.bəɡ/
  • (file)


handbag (countable and uncountable, plural handbags)

  1. (now rare) A small bag carried in the hand, used either when travelling or to carry tools for a specific job. [from 19th c.]
    • 1925 July – 1926 May, A[rthur] Conan Doyle, “(please specify the chapter number)”, in The Land of Mist (eBook no. 0601351h.html), Australia: Project Gutenberg Australia, published April 2019:
      From a little hand-bag he extracted his automatic pistol, which he put upon the mantelpiece.
    • 1929, William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury:
      I put on my new suit and put my watch on and packed the other suit and the accessories and my razor and brushes in my hand bag [] .
  2. (chiefly Commonwealth) A small bag used chiefly by women for carrying various small personal items, sometimes considered as a fashion accessory. [from 19th c.]
    Synonym: (North America) purse
    Coordinate terms: man-bag, murse
    • 1897 December (indicated as 1898), Winston Churchill, chapter V, in The Celebrity: An Episode, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., →OCLC:
      Then came a maid with hand-bag and shawls, and after her a tall young lady. She stood for a moment holding her skirt above the grimy steps, with something of the stately pose which Richter has given his Queen Louise on the stairway, and the light of the reflector fell full upon her.
  3. (uncountable, music) Ellipsis of handbag house. [from 20th c.]

Derived terms[edit]



handbag (third-person singular simple present handbags, present participle handbagging, simple past and past participle handbagged)

  1. (Britain, transitive, humorous) To attack verbally or subject to criticism (typically used of a woman).
    • 1995, Nicholas Jones, Soundbites and Spin Doctors, London: Cassell, →ISBN, page 202:
      ‘Apparently Birt happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on Sunday afternoon. Virginia saw him and handbagged him. She really was very cross.’
    • 2010, Rachel Johnson, A Diary of the Lady, London: Fig Tree, →ISBN, page 168:
      My favourite part of the whole day was being handbagged by a reader who was quivering with rage and said, ‘You've changed everything!’ and complained about everything, even how easy the crossword was, as Dower filmed every foam-flecked word.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Levi-Faur, editor (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Governance, OUP Oxford, →ISBN, page 316:
    Governance appeared to give way to hierarchical and even impositional Government, hence the invention of the new verb “to handbag” (coined because Mrs Thatcher always carried a large handbag and it was said that she could not look at any existing British institution without hitting it with her handbag).

Further reading[edit]