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The meaning and origin of the expression: All mouth and no trousers

All mouth and no trousers

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'All mouth and no trousers'?

'All mouth and no trousers' means 'loud-mouthed and boastful, but lacking in substance'.

The meaning is similar to the American phrase 'all hat and no cattle'

What's the origin of the phrase 'All mouth and no trousers'?

The origin of 'all mouth and no trousers' lies with the similar, earlier, but less often used expression 'all mouth and trousers'.

Let's look at that earlier form first.

To be 'all mouth and trousers' is to be loud, boastful and forward in a sexually-charged way. This is certainly an English expression and the first example I can find of it in print is in a novel by the English writer L. P. Hartley - Two for the River, 1961:

'It's not a bad life. Most men are all mouth and trousers - well, I like trousers best, if you see what I mean.'
'You mean without the trousers.'
'Yes, I suppose I do.'

Here, I'll add a little aside - another citation of 'all mouth and trousers' from England in the 1960s. It's a few years later than the above but I have sentimental reasons for including it. It is in an article in the Birmingham Daily Post, January 1967 and relates to the English Black Country town of Oldbury, where I was born and brought up. Oldbury rarely gets a mention, so here goes...

Jack Judge, the nearest thing Oldbury has had to a bard, once wrote a song called Tipperary.

The second line says: "It's a long way to go." Perhaps, if he had written it today instead of 50 years ago, he might have named it Warley.


Basically, a third was council business - dealt with as efficiently as Warley knows how - and the other two-thirds were what might be called elsewhere "all mouth and trousers."

[Note: Oldbury is now part of Warley.]

Although the writer refers to the phrase being used 'elsewhere' I can confirm that it was in active use in the English West Midlands in the 1960s.

All mouth and no trousersSo, now on to 'all mouth and no trousers'. There can be little doubt that this emerged as a variant of the earlier form. However, the two phrases aren't used to mean exactly the same thing. 'All mouth and no trousers' means 'showiness but no delivery'. That's similar to 'all bark and no bite'.

The first use I can find of the 'no' variant of the phrase in print is in an article in the English newspaper The Daily Mirror, July 1974. It was written by Keith Waterhouse, giving his opinion of the Cypriot political leader Nicos Sampson:

But the consensus view of the older hands was that, politically, he was all mouth and no trousers. It was a view I quickly came to share myself.

The second variant 'all mouth and no trousers' is almost always used and few people will have heard of the earlier form. In fact, few people outside of the UK will have heard of either. In the US, the preferred phrase is 'all (or big) hat and no cattle'.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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