• bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    The Online Etymology Dictionary is an excellent place to start this sort of research.

    Etymonline.com has the following under its entry on "drag":
    sense of "women's clothing worn by a man" is said to be 1870 theater slang, from the sensation of long skirts trailing on the floor (another guess is Yiddish trogn "to wear," from Ger. tragen); drag queen is from 1941

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    I'd like to revive this thread. I read recently in Wikipedia of a suggested origin:
    In England, actors in Shakespearean plays, and all Elizabethan theatre, were all male; female parts were played by young men in drag. During the practices and performances, notations of "Dr.A.G." meaning "Dressed As Girl", were frequently made on the manuscripts when a male was to play a female part dressed as a female.
    Now, as a transvestite, linguist and also frequent director of Shakespeare, I think this is rubbish! I have never heard of it in Shakespeare's plays, and also there are very few such etymologies from abbreviations that predate Word War 1. I see that no source is given to support the assertion that these notes "were frequently made on the manuscripts" and there are in fact no extant Shakespeare manuscripts. If it were true, what happened to the word between 1620 and 1870? In short, I think it was a folk-etymology invented in the 1980s.

    But I could always be wrong - can anyone throw light on this theory?


    Senior Member
    American English
    As a sometime Shakespearian actor, I'm with you on this, Keith - I think the Bard would have put it in somewhere, having Bottom say, "Let me play Thisbe as well; I have oft visited with Doctor A.G." or something, if it were around in his day.

    It's one of those "etymologies" that just smells bad, like "To Insure Promptness."


    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    It sounds like a whole lot of hooey to me.

    Probably the motive is to restore some "dignity" to drag, but it doesn't exactly ring true. Renaissance/Enlightenment transvestism isn't the same as Victorian/Modern cross-dressing, since the understandings of gender difference and performance are different in those time periods. Which is not to say that one word couldn't have been adapted to fit the new idea of "drag," but it does make it more unlikely. Also, would Shakespeare even write "Dressed As Girl"? It sounds like a more modern phrasing.
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