Finding America

Me and Tarah

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During the 1980s and early 1990s, it was fashionable among tourists of all ages to wear what is now considered somewhat of a fashion faux pas: the bum bag.

Originally designed to be worn on the backside, it was quickly discovered that this method made users susceptible to pick-pocketing, and was generally just a pain in the arse (pun intended) to access.

And so it was that everyone started turning these absurd accessories round to their front, making it a pain in the arse to clip and unclip the belt around your waist. There were simply no winners.

In America, where tourists of a certain age still adorn their waists with this fad of yesteryear, the bum bag is actually known as a fanny pack. The reason for this, of course, is that fanny is another word for backside in American English.

The question is, since fanny has an altogether different meaning in Britain (hint: it means vulva), how did its definition evolve between Plymouth and that rock of the same name?

The answer is, there's no clear explanation. It is believed that the American usage - first recorded somewhere between 1925 and 1930 - was influenced by the British usage (1879).

Further ties place the origin of both words to the title character in John Cleland's erotic novel - the first of its kind - Fanny Hill (also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure).

Whatever the origin, nothing can disguise the fact that bum bags are the single worst clothing accessory of the 80s - which is certainly saying something. Discuss below.

This article was written by Laurence Brown. Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana, and has written for BBC America and Anglotopia. He is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond and loves nothing more than to share these articles with anglophiles, expats, and other interested parties on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.


  1. [Mindy DePalma Hems]: Oh no! I got caught wearing one of those stupid accessories in the mid-eighties, AND using the "fanny" word incorrectly-both during one of my visits to London around 1986 or so. How embarrassing! UGH! (Like 1980's hair styles). :-(

  2. [Mindy DePalma Helms]: PS: Thanks for explaining the origin of the meaning of the British English word "fanny". I always wondered. (Although I found out the hard way first! :-0)

  3. But so usefull if invigilating an exhibition, needing to manage the money and the head count and wander around. Also have another one for plein aire painting for the chalk and charcoal etc that you need instant access to. So, they may be ugly, but at least they are useful. Only real problem is they are very difficult to put on and off with only one functional arm. I say hooray for the bumbag. Oh ....and the ones for skiing and canoeing.....

  4. British-Australian here, and the first time I heard the phrase "fanny pack" I pictured a sanitary device for use during that time of the month... I do think it would be sort of amusing to bring it into usage to mean that (outside the US, of course).

  5. Thanks for explaining the British aversion to the phrase "fanny pack." Read about that just the other day ( Hadn't ever heard that was the case before. Now at least I know what NOT to say if I ever visit the UK.... And what not to wear.

  6. Next word up for discussion: Growler.

  7. The original Fanny Pack was a parachute that the pilot would sit on.


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