fag bag

From various people on Facebook, this WPA poster with the compound fag bag:

The fag here is the fag of cigarette smoking, though it turns out that there are now two notable uses of fag bag involving the sexual slur fag: for reference to a fanny pack and as a personal slur.

The poster comes from a WPA public art project:

The Work Projects Administration (WPA) Poster Collection consists of 907 posters produced from 1936 to 1943 by various branches of the WPA. The posters were designed to publicize exhibits, community activities, theatrical productions, and health and educational programs in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, with the strongest representation from California, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. (link)

The silkscreened poster above is described in a Library of Congress document as being the work of Louis Hirschman, created in Pennsylvania between 1941 and 1943, and characterizes it as a

Poster encouraging use of “fag bag” for disposal of matches, showing stylized Japanese soldier standing behind a tree with a match, with the rising sun in the background.

The connection to cigarettes is through matches, the most common use of matches in matchbooks being to light cigarettes. If these fag bags were also used to collect cigarette butts, the connection would be even stronger. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any information about what these fag bags looked like, how they were used, or who used them in what contexts. Nor do I fully understand how matches would aid the Axis.

We find the poster funny today, especially if we’re American, because of the intrusion of the sexual slur fag, which can contaminate any word with FAG in it, even food names (see “Fag food”).

But the fag in the poster has nothing to do with fag ‘homosexual male’. From OED2u under fag n. 4:

Etymology:  Abbreviation of fag-end n. [‘the last part or remnant of anything, after the best has been used; the extreme end’]
a. The fag-end of a cigarette [‘cigarette butt’].
b. A cheap cigarette.
c. Any cigarette (the current use).

The OED’s cites are all British except possibly for a 1945 cite from Lou Shelly’s Hepcats Jive Talk Dictionary. That would accord with current impressions that fag ‘cigarette’ is a specifically British usage — a fact that makes the (decidedly American) poster above even more mysterious.

On to other uses of fag bag, starting with the fanny pack. From a site devoted to a particular product designed for carrying small firearms:

For covert carriage of a pistol the Fast Action Gunbag [“FagBag” or, “Fanny Pack”] can be a good option.

Illustrated here:

(A second photo shows him putting a pistol in the bag.)

Here, fanny pack and fagbag are simply treated as synonyms.

Digression on fanny packs, from Wikipedia:

A fanny pack (US, Canada), belt pack (US), belly bag (US), Buffalo pouch (US), hip sack (US), phany pack (US), waist bag (or waistpack) (US), hip pack (UK), bum bag (UK, Australia, Oceania, Ireland), or moon bag (South Africa), is a small fabric pouch secured with a zipper and worn by use of a strap around the hips or waist.

The name “fanny pack” is derived from the fact that they were traditionally worn facing the rear above the buttocks, for which “fanny” is a slang term in the United States.

Despite the name, fanny packs are often worn on the hip or (as in the photo) in front, rather than in back.

And despite their popularity with hikers and outdoorsmen, fanny packs have become associated with gay men, primarily because bags of all sorts (except shopping bags, duffel bags, gym bags, and backpacks) carried or worn by men — man purses, canvas bags, messenger bags, and fanny packs — are seen as unmasculine (because they are associated with women); men have wallets or carry business accessories like briefcases and attache cases.

Then it turns out that some people associate fanny packs with gay men because of the association of the buttocks with anal sex, which is widely seen as a specifically gay thing; see this foaming piece (from 4/2/05) on male fashion:

Why are there still people wearing fag bags? Ok the 80′s are over…we are not wearing biker shorts for the hell of it and women are not wearing enough make up to make them look like cheap 80′s B movie whores. Guys especially; dude all the other guys think you are gay ok, so while you are prouncing around in the mall acting like Mr. big shot with your purple or black leather fag bag just remember that every guy that is passing by you is silently calling you a fag. Another thing, why is it that so many body builders wear this crap? If I were gonna work that hard to impress chics, I’m not gonna go and ruin it by wearing a fag bag, so if you have been working out for years and the only thing you get is a smile from guys that pass by you..it’s time to drop the fag bag. Have you ever seen those fat guys with the hot chics? I bet they’re not wearing fag bags. In my opinion, they call it fanny pack because if you are a guy and you wear one of these long enough they’ll be packing your fanny with something besides a bag.

[Prouncing is a very common error for pronouncing, but here it seems to be a portmanteau of prancing and pouncing. Chics as a misspelling of chicks was new to me, but you can find more occurrences.]

So the fanny pack becomes associated with gay men, which facilitates the rude names fag bag / fagbag and queer bag / queerbag (also attested) for it. Fag bag has the edge over queer bag, because of its rhyme.

Now to the insult use, which combines fag and douchebag (for a different combination, see my posting on douchefag, here). There’s a “quiz” cite asking “Are you cool or are you a fag bag?”. I answered the questions and got this response:

You Scored as Fag bag
Ha Ha your Gay

And on Urban Dictionary fagbag and queerbag are glossed variously as ‘extreme fag, total and complete fag, someone who embodies all that is queer, too gay for their own good’. Like this prouncing, shirtlifting queer:

One UD contributor nails the source, in an entry that treats fag-bag (the third possible spelling) as having the libfix -bag:

a versatile suffix added to many offensive words to describe a person. classically used with root word “douche”, modern insult artists now utilize it with other more offensive root words.

douche-bag. fuck-bag. cock-bag. fag-bag. ass-bag. shit-bag. cunt-bag. sack-bag. etc.

So -bag now can function as an intensifying suffix.

We’re a long way from WWII fag bags.


2 Responses to “fag bag”

  1. Chris Says:

    Is it possible that “fag bags” in the WWII sense were to keep matches in so they didn’t cause fires? Smokey the Bear is much more photogenic, but invoking the wartime enemy to urge compliance to a particular desired behaviour is not new. cf today: “do X or the terrorists win.”

  2. Ulee Schmee Says:

    There is a USFS logo on the bottom right. This could only be a (confusing) forest fire prevention campaign.

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