OK, I’ve a “phraseology” question. I am curious about “Maggie’s drawers”
Posted: 11 July 2012 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Somebody over on SDMB asked about “Maggie’s drawers”. The remainder of the thread was mostly confusing to me.  Can you give me something on the meaning and origin?

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Posted: 11 July 2012 01:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’ve never heard of the phrase, but i found this via google, which contains an interesting discussion of the term.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-93721.html

I don’t know how reliable the “straight dope” board is, but the explanation the posters came up with seems to make sense.

To briefly summarize the information on that site, Maggie’s Drawers is said to be military (gunnery) slang for missing a target completely.  It apparently refers to a large red (or, perhaps, white) flag that would be waved if a person missed the target, leading to gleeful cries from the other gunners of “Maggie’s drawers.” The flag was jokingly compared to a woman (maggie’s) underwear.  There is also a suggestion that the phrase is derived from a ribald 1920’s song which includes a line about the red flannel (the post in the link actually says “flanned") drawers Maggie wore.  Don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a great story.

(EDIT: it belatedly occurs to me that the link I provided is to the very message board that you said you found “mostly confusing”.  But, maybe my interpretation / analysis / recap of what it says is easier to follow than the board itself.  Or maybe not. But I hope it was.)

[ Edited: 11 July 2012 02:23 PM by Svinyard118 ]
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Posted: 11 July 2012 01:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Here’s what OED has, along with the earliest cite.

Maggie’s drawers n.  [thought to be a reference to a song, Those Old Red Flannel Drawers that Maggie Wore (see Amer. Speech (1942) 17 68/2); compare sense 3] U.S. Mil. slang a red flag used to indicate a miss in target practice.

1936 Our Army July 37/1 Home, home on the range, where all of the bolos roam, Where seldom is heard, ‘Bull’s Eye’ as a word, And Maggie’s drawers wave all the day.

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Posted: 11 July 2012 02:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Note that 1942 is the date of the article (in American Speech) mentioning the song, and is not necessarily the date of the song.  The “straight dope” board discussion I cited says that the 1942 article says that the song likely dates to 1921 or earlier.  I took a look at google books and it seems to confirm that the 1942 article dates the song to 1921 or earlier.  However, the snippet view is tiny and shows virtually nothing - I am actually relying on the little abstract that is shown next to the search result, rather than the snippet.

(EDIT: if I’m responding to a point that you weren’t making, please disregard!)

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Posted: 12 July 2012 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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You can listen to the song here, sung by a New Zealander who claims it was popular in Australia and New Zealand in the 1930s and “got itself transmitted into the New Zealand army”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7akvWe4LNHg

It wouldn’t have been high on the BBC’s list of broadcastable songs.

Apparently:

Maggie May was a popular song with seamen long before Rod Stewart recorded his version of a song with the same title, Maggie May or Mae was a Liverpool whore in the nineteenth century who was allegedly transported to Botany Bay for robbing a sailor and pawning all of his clothes, according to the lyrics of the Liverpool song she frequented Lime Street where she picked up sailors for sex but her intention was to rob them of whatever they had of any value.

I’ve searched all over the internet for information on dirty Maggie May, as she was known colloquially, but I can find no trace of her.

Rather than cruising up and down Lime Street I think is more likely she cruised Canning Place where the Sailors’ Home was situated and Paradise Street where the cheap grog-shops and pubs that catered to seamen who visited the port from all over the world.

When we think of 18/19th. Century whores and slums we must realize that this is a time without toilets or bathrooms, most people were on the nose, it was so bad that many upper-class and middle-class people, especially women, carried little scent bottles they used, to sniff on, when around particularly smelly people; this was the time of Maggie May so she must really have been on the nose but then the seamen were no better, so their smell probably covered the pungent odour of their whore. ...

The day that Maggie died, she called me to her side
And handed me her old Red Flannel drawers.
They were tattered, they were torn
Round the crutch piece they were worn
Them old Red Flannel drawers that Maggie wore.

The story goes that Maggie was transported to Australia which would explain the antipodean reference of the 1930s. Maggie was a very common name and looking for her in the UK censuses of the last century is a fruitless task.  Liverpool was at that time choked with immigrants and prostitution was rife.

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Posted: 12 July 2012 05:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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An interesting discussion; I had never heard of the phrase.  (I will take this occasion to mention that Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” is a great song and it’s a pity that it’s so overplayed; the rest of the album it came from, Every Picture Tells a Story, is terrific as well, the best thing Stewart’s done and a useful corrective to the pathetic image he’s presented for the past few decades.)

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Posted: 17 July 2012 02:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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There’s a lengthy discussion of the history of the folk song “Maggie May” in the book to be found here, but alas Google Books cuts off the start in the Preview. However, going by what Wikipedia says, the song has been around since at least 1830, and it is certainly extremely popular in Liverpool, though I believe the Scouse version does NOT include the “Maggie’s drawers” verse - certainly when I heard the song in folk clubs in the 1970s that verse wasn’t included. So it looks as if “Maggie’s drawers” was an Antipodean addition to the original British folk-song. Why Rod Stewart stole the title for his own rather different story of sexual exploitation seems unknown ...

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