Understanding the Idiom: "the handbags come out" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When people use the expression “the handbags come out,” they are referring to a situation where two or more individuals, typically women, become involved in a heated argument or physical altercation. This idiom is often used to describe situations where tensions have escalated quickly, and tempers are running high.

The phrase “the handbags come out” can be traced back to the world of fashion, where it was originally used to describe an event at which designers would showcase their latest collections. During these events, attendees would often carry expensive designer handbags as a way of showing off their wealth and status.

Over time, however, the phrase has taken on a different meaning and is now commonly used to describe confrontations between individuals. In these situations, it is not uncommon for one or both parties to resort to physical violence in an attempt to resolve their differences.

While the origins of this idiom may seem unrelated to its current usage, there is actually some logic behind its evolution. Just as attendees at fashion shows would use their handbags as symbols of status and power, individuals engaged in arguments may also see physical aggression as a way of asserting dominance over others.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “the handbags come out”

The origins and historical context of the idiom “the handbags come out” can be traced back to a time when physical altercations between women were not uncommon. The phrase is believed to have originated in Britain during the 1950s, a period marked by social change and shifting gender roles.

During this time, it was not unusual for women to engage in verbal arguments that often escalated into physical fights. These confrontations would sometimes involve the use of handbags as weapons, hence the origin of the idiom.

As society evolved and attitudes towards violence changed, physical altercations between women became less common. However, the phrase “the handbags come out” continued to be used as a metaphorical expression for any situation where people engage in heated arguments or disputes.

Today, the idiom is commonly used in political contexts to describe debates or discussions that become particularly intense or aggressive. It has also been adopted by popular culture as a humorous way of describing situations where tensions run high.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “the handbags come out”

The idiom “the handbags come out” is a colorful expression that refers to a situation where people, usually women, become involved in an argument or fight. The phrase implies that the altercation has escalated to the point where physical violence may occur.

Variations of the Idiom

While “the handbags come out” is the most common version of this idiom, there are several variations used in different English-speaking countries. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, people might say “the claws come out,” while in Canada it’s more likely to be “the gloves come off.”

Usage Examples

Example Meaning
“I heard that things got pretty heated at the meeting yesterday.” This suggests that there was an argument or disagreement between participants.
“When they started talking about politics, it wasn’t long before the handbags came out.” This implies that a discussion turned into an argument with raised voices and possibly physical aggression.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “the handbags come out”

When we hear the idiom “the handbags come out”, we understand that a situation has escalated to the point where people are starting to argue or fight. However, there are other ways to express this idea using different words and phrases.

Some synonyms for “the handbags come out” include “things get heated”, “tempers flare”, and “arguments turn physical”. These expressions all convey the same meaning as the original idiom but use different language to do so.

On the other hand, antonyms of “the handbags come out” would be phrases like “people remain calm” or “disagreements stay civil”. These phrases indicate that a situation did not escalate into a physical altercation.

Understanding cultural insights related to this idiom can also be helpful in interpreting its meaning. For example, in some cultures, physical altercations may be more common or acceptable than in others. In these cultures, using an expression like “the handbags come out” may not carry as much weight as it would in a culture where physical violence is less accepted.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “the handbags come out”

Exercise 1: Conversation Practice

One effective way to practice using the idiom “the handbags come out” is through conversation practice with a partner or group. Choose a topic that could potentially lead to conflict or disagreement, such as politics or sports teams, and try incorporating the idiom into your discussion when tensions rise. For example, if someone becomes defensive about their opinion, you could say “Looks like the handbags are coming out!” This exercise will not only help you become more comfortable using the idiom but also improve your ability to navigate difficult conversations.

Exercise 2: Writing Practice

Conversation Practice Writing Practice
– Roleplay discussions
– Incorporate idioms
– Focus on non-verbal cues

By practicing these exercises regularly, you will become more confident in your ability to use the idiom “the handbags come out” in various situations. Remember, idioms are an important part of English language and culture, and mastering them can greatly improve your communication skills.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “the handbags come out”

When using idioms in everyday conversation, it’s important to be aware of their correct usage and avoid common mistakes. The idiom “the handbags come out” is no exception. This expression refers to a situation where people, usually women, become angry or aggressive towards each other. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that this idiom is typically used in a humorous or lighthearted way and should not be taken too seriously. It’s also important not to use this expression in situations where it may be offensive or insensitive.

Another mistake that people often make when using this idiom is assuming that it only applies to women. While the term “handbag” may suggest otherwise, the idiom can apply to anyone who becomes aggressive or confrontational during an argument.

Additionally, it’s important not to overuse this expression as it can quickly become repetitive and lose its impact. Instead, try using other similar expressions such as “things got heated” or “tempers flared”.


  1. See post by djwalker, Mar 2, 2004, in “Official Jeremy St. Louis Thread”, Big Soccer, crediting St. Louis with the coinage: “Jeremy, / Love the line " . . . and then the handbags come out" / Brilliant!”
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