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The meaning and origin of the expression: Bottom drawer

Bottom drawer

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Bottom drawer'?

A 'bottom drawer' is a place where valuables are stored, especially clothes, linen, etc. Typically this was the place that a woman might store items in preparation for her marriage. Literally, the lowest drawer of a chest of drawers.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Bottom drawer'?

Bottom drawerThe figurative use of the term 'bottom drawer' to refer to the items that a woman stores in readiness for marriage began in the 19th century. It was certainly in use in Cheshire by 1886, as this entry in Robert Holland's A glossary of words used in the county of Chester [Cheshire] shows:

"If a young woman were to buy a set of teathings, or a tablecloth, or what not, and were asked what use she had for such things, she would answer, 'Oh! they're to put in my bottom drawer.'"

It is odd that the similar phrase 'top drawer', which refers to items of the best quality and which also derives from a literal reference to the drawer of a cabinet, should be otherwise unrelated to 'bottom drawer'. We might imagine that if 'top drawer' is the best, then 'bottom drawer' would be the worst. It's not so, which amply demonstrates the difference between the literal and the metaphorical.

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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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