General English

  • plural noun
    (written as knickers)
    a piece of a woman’s or girl’s underwear for the lower body


  • exclamation a cry of dismissal, defiance or contempt. This primary and junior schoolchildren’s rude word has been adopted for humorous use by adults since the early 1970s. Some authorities claim that it was originally a euphemism for the more offensive knackers, but this seems unlikely in that underwear in itself is a favourite subject of prurient interest in pre-pubescent children. (Knickers is in origin a shortening of ‘knickerbockers’, meaning baggy knee-length trousers as worn in 19th-century Holland.).

Origin & History of “knickers!”

The use of the word knickers for ‘women’s underpants’ dates back to the 1880s: a writer in the magazine Queen in 1882 recommended ‘flannel knickers in preference to flannel petticoat’, and Home Chat in 1895 was advertising ‘serge knickers for girls from twelve to sixteen’. over the decades, of course, the precise application of the term has changed with the nature of the garment, and today’s legless briefs are a far cry from the knee-length ‘knickers’ of the 1880s. they got their name because of their similarity to the original knickers, which were knee-length trousers for men (The Times in 1900 reported the ‘Imperial Yeomanry … in their well-made, loosely-fitting khaki tunics and riding knickers’). And knickers itself was short for knickerbockers, a term used for such trousers since the 1850s. this came from Diedrich Knickerbocker, a fictitious Dutch-sounding name invented by the American writer Washington Irving for the ‘author’ of his History of New York 1809. The reason for the application seems to have been that the original knickerbockers resembled the sort of knee-breeches supposedly worn by Dutchmen.