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Where does the phrase "handbags at dawn" come from?

Ladies, ladies! Handbags at Dawn...

Ever wondered where the expression ‘handbags at dawn’ came from?

Well it is derived from the better known and more masculine phrase ‘pistols at dawn’ which relates to duelling, and is applied to various forms of non-violent confrontational situation between two people. 

A similar phrase is ‘pistols at ten paces’ which was feminised to become ‘handbags at ten paces’. Both this expression and ‘handbags at dawn’ emerged in the 1980’s by way of describing confrontations between professional footballers. There were many televised ‘handbags at dawn’ incidents in highly charged Premiership football matches, and these were cat-fight like expressions of the mid-match frustrations and disagreements footballers would generate- notably in matches between Manchester United and Arsenal- when players were obviously bound by rules to refrain from physical violence on the pitch. 

Chelsea captain John Terry has very recently found himself at the centre of a so-called ‘handbags case’ following a ‘racially-aggregated verbal attack’ during a match, after being goaded over an alleged affair, and the incident has been dismissed as ‘handbags’ by Ashley Cole, Chelsea defender. 

Handbags seem to have featured quite prominently in 80’s verbal popular culture. When Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister she was said to have given ministers who were seen to be slacking a ‘good handbagging’ (a good dressing-down). Later, into the 1990’s, we see the evolution of electronic music dubbed ‘handbag house’ by way of its mass appeal through catchy tunes; obliquely alluding to the ‘tribal’ culture of women dancing in groups around their handbags. 

Who could forget the 80’s disco trend for dancing around one’s handbag? Phew, glad that’s over - hopefully that will be one fad that doesn't make a comeback.

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