Origin of the expression “don’t get your panties in a knot”

First published on August 28, 2006

There are seemingly many variations of this phrase, such as “don’t get your knickers in a knot” and “don’t get your underwear in a bunch”. One might wonder, who in the world came up with this? After all, how would one get one’s underwear twisted in the first place — putting them on too fast? the washing machine did it? And is one walking around all uncomfortable with a wedgie, or is one simply having a difficult time putting on his or her underwear?

So I was hoping for a great story behind this expression (such as the theories behind the expression “white elephant gifts“) but apparently it was just some silliness conjured up by The Basil Brush Show, a British television program that started in the late 60s. From there, the Australians turned the original expression “don’t get your knickers in a twist” into “don’t get your knickers in a knot” (source). Then, of course, the Americans implemented the “panties” term.

Oh, and if the origin described above is wrong, please tell me the real story in the comments to this post!


29 Responses to “Origin of the expression “don’t get your panties in a knot””

  1. Julia says:

    Thanks for your investigation of this difficult issue!

  2. Melissa says:

    Where did you find this valuable information? You must be very skilled at advanced internet searching techniques….I am impressed?

  3. Leah says:

    The real question is why you wanted to know this?! Did you have a problem you’re not telling us about?!

    Also I’ve never heard the phrase with “panties” I’ve always heard it with “knickers”

  4. Kat says:

    peter, where are you going? (i keep seeing the count down get closer and closer and i keep meaning to ask!). we should catch up some time…

  5. Hilde says:

    Thank you for your useful information. I am currently writing a story on this very topic. I found your site as I was researching the origin of “panties in a twist”. The reason was simple….this expression came to mind after a fitful sleep. I had left my underwear on and after tossing and turning most of the night, I felt a horrid burning sensation on my thigh. Long story short, the elastic and twisted and turned to the point where it gauged my leg and left a huge red indentation. I hoped it wouldn’t be permanent. After all, I wouldn’t want people to think I was the type to have my “knickers in a knot”.

  6. Pat says:

    I’ve been trying to understand the expression “whatever blows your skirt up,” which means something like “whatever makes you happy” or “whatever turns you on.” I can tell you that my friends are not very happy when the wind blows their skirt up, although it does turn me on. Do you know the origin of this expression?

  7. Peter says:

    Unfortunately, I have no clue, Pat. Maybe someone else can enlighten us?

  8. Mark says:

    It is an expression coming from Great Britain. The orgin of the saying reflects an upset person angerly wading up clothes and throwing them in the dresser drawers as opposed to carefully folding the clothes.

  9. Rebel says:

    Pat, I don’t know the origin of the phrase, but as a young girl who went to grade school in the U.S. in the 50’s, I hated wearing skirts. There were two main styles: a “straight” skirt, which had no flare and came down below the knee which required walking from the knees down only, like a penguin; and the multi-crinoline layered “full” skirt. Neither style allowed for any air circulation up in the nether anatomy. (Remember this was before the sexual revolution and mini-skirts with no panties.) I lived in central California which could get very hot even in early spring and getting a breeze up my skirt felt delightful. Imagine what it must have been like for women in earlier generations with long skirts with multiple layers of crinoline slips. Ugh. So, maybe it’s a peculiarly female term from earlier generations?

  10. blake says:

    I think this may have something to do with the famous Marilyn Monroe picture where she is standing over the subway grill and the wind from the passing train underneath is blowing up her skirt. She was obviously getting a thrill and so was everyone around her!!!

  11. Philippe says:

    I also read :
    "Don’t get your thong in a knot"
    Another variation…

  12. TnT says:

    I’m writing an article on knickers for a client, and needed to do a little research first, to get some ideas on what to write. The articles need keywords or similar words, and I thought instead of just searching for "knickers" on Google, I’d try other search phrases, and the results have been quite interesting, and entertaining like this blog is. Well done :)

  13. Mark says:

    Actually, the phrase appears throughout the 1800’s.

  14. John C says:

    Here in the USA the phrase "Don’t get your panties in a WAD" is the most common form of the phrase.

  15. Mike says:

    It is an emasculating term for an American to use the phrase on another man such as "He had his panties in a knot!" The basic meaning that the man got upset of agitated like a little girl who doesn’t get her way.

  16. Uncle Ivan says:

    Great blog, Peter! Thanks for the info! And thanks Rebel for the insight! John C, I’m a linguist and I’ve never heard the "in a wad" version (though I like it!). In my experience, it’s always been "in a knot" throughout most of the U.S. Where would you hail from? Maybe it’s a regional variation?

  17. Rob says:

    I’ve always thought the phrase started as something like "Janet has her panties [knickers] in a knot from what George said to her" – meaning that she was grouchy from what George said to her, similar to if she had an uncomfortable knot of cloth in her tender nether region. A comparable phrase would be "Janet has her nose out of joint about [whatever]" – though maybe a little more mild. The next step would be to tell someone to NOT let that happen – "don’t get your nose out of joint about …" or "don’t get your panties [knickers] in a knot about …". But it could be that my brain just made up that sequence at some point in the distant past, in order to make sense of a strange phrase. (And appologies to any Janets out there – I’m sure you’re very nice people, so please don’t get a bug up your nose from my (ab)using your name here. And I don’t think George meant anything bad by what he said.)

  18. susan says:

    Uncle Ivan – I’m from Texan and have heard both "panties in a knot" and "panties in a wad" (never knickers), but I must say i’ve definitely heard "wad" used more frequently.

  19. cloie says:

    not helpful at all just confusing

  20. aksent says:

    Hey dude, thank you for this… i am sure when you came up with the idea for the useful crap blog you didn’t think this many people wondered about such random things and things in twists – lol.

    keep it going man.

  21. Anica says:

    How insulting is it if a man says this to a woman? Is it appropriate to say at work or just in a casual non-work situation. Isn’t it insulting to say if something more diplomatic and nice could be used? Doesn’t it imply a guy is in an irritable state of mind to say unattractive idioms like this to a woman when a less personal, less sexual, comment would do, like chill out or take it easy, both of which sound nicer and less insulting?

  22. linda heard ! says:

    The Yanks have bastardized the English language !
    Knickers fits much better in the phrase .

    I pity the Yanks for not having their own native language.
    What a pity they failed to invent one !!!!

  23. dan says:

    I’ve heard it as ‘knackers in a twist’. It seems reasonable that someone who knew what that meant would clean it up for TV of the 60’s. Leading inevitably to the less colorful and really a bit confusing variations found in this thread as tween yanks and polite society tried to translate what is rude, obscure or anachronistic vocabulary to their contemporary equivalents.

  24. brian says:

    Mike has got it all wrong about the insult – he means "don’t throw your toys out of the pram" (the tantrum of a child)

  25. Juan Jose says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I could sleep

  26. Adolph H. says:

    Too bad you Brits lost the Revolutionary war. It made you such humorless dolts.

  27. sheila says:

    Linda heard! Quit picking at us yanks. Language is an ever evolving thing. Otherwise ye would verily speaketh in an olde Germanic tongue. By the way, how does one even "own" a language? You are being a bit of a snob.

  28. Gabriel Percy says:

    I was thinking maybe it came from when someone is upset (mostly women I should imagine) then grab a bunch of unfolded clothes then storm out of the house in a sulky manner, which is a behavior mostly common in females and because their clothes include panties and other underwear garments the bunch would then be reduced to panties. Therefore, when the expression is used towards males it’d be because normally we expect a man not to catch feelings and sulk easily thus if he does then he’d be equated to a woman who’s lumping her clothes clumsily ready to leave the house. It’s an insult when used towards males I guess.

  29. Dan says:

    Anica–don’t get your panties in a twist!

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