Appalachian Dialect

Pocketbooks in Appalachia


In one of my recent language videos (go here to see it) The Deer Hunter shared that Pap always called his billfold his pocketbook. I never thought anything about it because I grew up hearing him say it, but The Deer Hunter says he never heard another man call his billfold a pocketbook.

I found the following on the Online Etymology Dictionary.

pocketbook (n.)

also pocket-book, 1610s, originally a small book meant to be carried in one’s pocket, from pocket (n.) + book (n.). Meaning “a flexible booklike leather folder for papers, bills, etc.” is from 1722. Meaning “a woman’s purse” is from 1816.

The entry makes Pap’s usage seem totally normal.

While I knew from The Deer Hunter that Pap’s usage of pocketbook was unusual, I was surprised by how many people commented that their mother always called her purse a pocketbook. I certainly know what a purse is, but I’ve never called my purse anything but a pocketbook. There were so many remarks about ladies calling their purse a pocketbook that I began to wonder if that usage is fading away too. If you carry a purse do you call it a purse or a pocketbook?


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  • Reply
    Beth J.
    July 15, 2021 at 3:52 pm

    Growing up in eastern NC, a ladies purse was always referred to as a pocketbook. I live in west TN now and will interchange the terms but my husband always makes it a point to call my purse a pocketbook. Many of my friends in west TN had never heard of the term but I grew up knowing no different. I love reading BPA and watching My life in Appalachia because many of your post reflect the life I grew up with on the other side of the great state of NC.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2021 at 6:50 pm

    Grew up in MA, and when I was a child the women carried pocketbooks and the men had wallets. I think when shoulder bags became very popular during my teen years, there was a gradual shift from “pocketbook” to “bag” for any kind of purse or pocketbook. But in all my life I’ve never heard a man’s wallet called anything but “wallet” – never billfold.
    I’ve carried a small leather backpack for many, many years now, ever since I started trying to distribute weight evenly for the sake of my back. I’m hoping that little backpack will last many more years!

  • Reply
    darley Smyers
    July 14, 2021 at 9:01 am

    I giggle inside every time I hear my husband call his wallet his pocketbook! Been married 40 years & have never heard him call it a billfold. I have always called it his wallet. But to him it is his pocket book. I am from Appalachia but he is not. He was born & raised in Ohio where we now live. I am from WV & my father & grandfather were coal miners.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 7:15 pm

    Tipper, Thank you foe this sweet memory. Both Granny and Mama had pocketbooks, all of which were very basic. Granny’s was navy and had a clasp type closure. She carried the same one for years. We all sat together during church and she would fish out something to keep me occupied at a young age. Sometimes she would dig deep for a half stick of Juicy Fruit. That was a real treat. Their small change purses were carried inside their pocketbooks. If something was expensive, they might say “they wouldn’t have a purse for that’. Men folk carried billfolds and nobody, but nobody touched Daddy’s billfold. He always carried a silver dollar and a pocket full of change…still hear that sound. If Mama asked me to go get her pocketbook, something important was around the corner.

  • Reply
    Rodger Linkenhoker
    July 13, 2021 at 6:31 pm

    Here in the Blue Ridge of Virginia, I’ve always heard the ladies call them pocketbooks and purses were always a smaller bag carried inside of it to carry coins in. I have never heard of a man carrying a pocketbook, most of them referred to them as billfold. I rarely hear the use of wallet in older men, although the younger men may be gravitating to that usage.

  • Reply
    Jenny Young
    July 13, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    My mother used both purse & pocketbook to refer to hers. I used the word pocketbook until I went off to college & changed my vocabulary…I know…I can’t seem to get it back into every day use. My dad called his wallet a pocketbook & I never heard him use any other term. I grew up in southern West Virginia.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 5:28 pm

    Sometimes I say purse, sometimes I say pocketbook. Mama always called a wallet a billfold.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 4:38 pm

    I think I’m a good bit younger than a lot of commenters here, but growing up all the older women in my life said pocketbook, and men billfold for their wallets. Unfortunately as I’ve lost these people I really don’t hear pocketbook much anymore, but it’s never been strange for me to hear even though I myself say purse. Kind of weird to think that there are people who have never heard pocketbook!

  • Reply
    Janice B Chapman
    July 13, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    My daughter-in-law’s mom calls her purse a pocketbook. A pocketbook was always a wallet or billfold to me. Once, she said she was looking for her pocketbook and I almost said to look in her purse. Glad I didn’t-she probably would have thought I was being a smart mouth!

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    Many years ago as I saw women rummaging through their purse/pocketbook/hand bag I commented that I could make millions with a patent on one with a zipper on top and on the bottom. It seemed that anything they wanted was always on the bottom, so all they would need to do is turn it over and the item would be on top.

    I always called mine a billfold , even when I sometimes had a trifold.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    July 13, 2021 at 1:04 pm

    I always heard women refer to their purses as “pocketbooks and older men used the same word for their wallets. It seems that the boys of my generation used “billfold.” I later began calling it a wallet and do so now.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    Both my parents said billfold instead of wallet. I mostly recall purse among all my female family and friends (TN, AL, FL). Interestingly, my husband’s grandmother ALWAYS said pocketbook (and often her daughters). She was from Philadelphia and South Jersey. I’ve really enjoyed reading all these comments!

  • Reply
    Cheryl Christensen Bennett
    July 13, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    I carry my purse but my grandmother carried her pocketbook.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    I carry a pocketbook or handbag with a little purse inside. I have started calling it a bag more. Purse was just something I read in ads, and was usually lady’s purse. I just have to share that when I was small we had some very elderly neighbors who were probably born in the late 1800’s. One little lady kept a little drawstring bag up under long petticoat and dress. It held all the money from her small “old age pension.” She also wore an old bonnet to keep the sun off her face, as she helped them hoe the garden. My sis and I have marveled how she would pull up her petticoat and extract that bag to send us to the store. Your blog makes me want to reach back into the far reaches of my mind for almost forgotten memories. I can’t imagine that little lady’s bag compared to today’s handbags by Guess or Coach, but she sure was a special little lady!

  • Reply
    Judy Hays
    July 13, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    My mom carried a “purse” and my dad used a “wallet” or “billfold”. I always thought of a pocketbook as a fancier type of purse, like something used for a special occasion.

  • Reply
    Frances Jackson
    July 13, 2021 at 11:05 am

    Growing up in southwest Missouri in the 1930’s I thought all proper grown-up ladies carried pocketbooks. Little girls could have little bitty pocketbooks. Somehow as I grew older, “purse” crept in, and later on, “handbag,” or just “bag.”
    Of all the names for this indispensable piece of woman’s equipment, I like pocketbook best. For me it has a nice comfortable sound with just a hint of mystery to it. I like a big roomy pocketbook that holds the answer to any problem that might arise.

  • Reply
    Susan C
    July 13, 2021 at 10:57 am

    My friends tease me for calling it a pocketbook, but at least they know what I’m talking about. I’m from Charlotte, so guess back then in the 50’s and 60’s, it was still southern enough to be called a pocketbook.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 10:44 am

    I grew up calling it a pocketbook, but as I aged in my very later years,I used the term purse. For me it was where I was living at the time. I grew up in the northeast and now live in a mixture of cultures in FL. I remember when we had a home in NC, and I would go grocery shopping, I would ask or look for a cart, but the people in the area I was in called it a buggy. They probably giggled when they heard me ask for one. I finally learned the term, and became proper visitor!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    July 13, 2021 at 10:29 am

    I believe my grandfather called his billfold a pocketbook. He also had a little change purse with a crisscross metal closure.

  • Reply
    Amanda Burts
    July 13, 2021 at 10:10 am

    I’ve always called it a pocketbook! I remember being surprised when someone chuckled at that!

  • Reply
    Jane ODell
    July 13, 2021 at 9:59 am

    I grew up in NC and always called it my pocketbook. It was only when I went to school in Texas that people questioned me about why I called my purse a pocketbook. I still call it my pocketbook, but if I’m talking to someone from Texas, I’ll call it a purse so they understand. I prefer pocketbook and my friends here (SC) understand me perfectly. Great post, Tipper! Thanks for your awesome work in celebrating Appalachia!❤️

  • Reply
    Marilyn C
    July 13, 2021 at 9:49 am

    My husband and I did 1812 reenacting about 30 years ago. The women wore skirts and underneath the skirt, we wore a “pocket” tied around our waist. My grandmother always said pocketbook, my mom and siblings call it a purse. Tipper, you sure remind me of words and phrases I haven’t heard in years. Thanks for letting me hang out in your world.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 9:34 am

    papaw called it a pocketbook but so did granny and momma for theirs…daddy called his a billfold…coins were kept in a change purse…I always called it a pocketbook but i don’t carry one anymore 🙂

  • Reply
    Margie G
    July 13, 2021 at 9:34 am

    I’ve always carried a pocketbook myself. It was interesting reading the old dictionary entries. I’m sick again with sinus migraines over several days. God bless all BP&A friends with health and a peaceful day.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 13, 2021 at 9:23 am

    I use pocketbook, billfold and wallet interchangeably.
    My wife carried her purse inside her pocketbook. Her purse was similar to a man’s wallet only about double the size. She kept her money, drivers license, cards etc. in it. What she called her pocketbook is now mostly referred to as a handbag. In addition to her purse her pocketbook might have her glasses, tissues, her car keys, pen and a notepad, and all the other things women cannot be without.
    My daughter carries what you might call a shoulder bag with her pocketbook in it and her purse in that along with who knows what else. I have no idea what all she keeps in there but I have carried it into or out of the house for her and it weighs at least 40 lbs.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 9:20 am

    Mom called the handbag she carried a pocketbook and Dad called his wallet a pocketbook as well.

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    July 13, 2021 at 9:05 am

    I have always called it a pocketbook & still do!!!

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 8:57 am

    I remember family calling it a pocketbook but I always called it a purse. In my 20’s I remember Mother always saying let me get my purse when I mentioned a trip somewhere:)

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 8:31 am

    Growing up in East TN wallets and billfolds were men’s, pocket books were ladies and purse usually meant coin change container for either sex.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    July 13, 2021 at 8:29 am

    In my family, we always called them purses, but most women I knew growing up
    called then pocketbooks. I haven’t heard pocketbook for several years.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 13, 2021 at 8:17 am

    I grew up hearing both ‘purse’ and ‘pocketbook’ used to mean a woman’s carry-everything. I think probably ‘pocketbook’ was used more by the older ladies and ‘purse’ by the younger ones. But that was not a hard and fast rule.

    I also seem to have a dim memory of at least one man who carried his money in a ‘pocketbook’ in the bib of his overalls. The pocketbook was one of those pouches with the metal rim and clasp at the top. When I was a boy it was common for people to carry their change in one of them.

    I’m guessing what caused the change from a ‘pocketbook’ to a ‘billfold’ for men was two things; (1) the switch from coins to bills; for example, no more silver dollars, and (2) the rise of card carrying, for example drivers licenses, hunting/fishing licenses, social security cards, draft cards, etc. which had to be carried flat.

    By the way, about books, young folks have no idea how common ‘matchbook’ or ‘book of matches’ used to be. Remember when those, and ink pens, used to be the advertising medium. They were everywhere..

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    July 13, 2021 at 8:09 am

    Grandpa called his wallet a pocketbook. He also had a leather change pouch that he kept his coins in. He was born in 1896 in the hills of north Georgia. He used many words and phrases that I don’t hear very much anymore.
    He lived with us so he was like a second dad to me. When dad and mom worked he was there to watch us kids. Sometimes he would say, “fetch me my pocketbook and ride you bicycle down to the store and get me a pack of baccer.” It was ok for kids to buy tobacco then I guess. The people at the store also knew it was grandpa.
    My wife calls her purse a pocketbook and so did my mom.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    July 13, 2021 at 8:07 am

    I have never heard a man use pocketbook but I have heard the saying ” hand me my pocketbook I am running away from home”. I always say pocketbook and wonder if it is an age thing.

  • Reply
    Alice Somich
    July 13, 2021 at 8:06 am

    We call it a handbag up here in Northeast Ohio. My mom used to call it a pocketbook or purse. We watch videos about Appalachia almost every evening! Lots of towns we would love to see! Hello to you and your people Tipper! Making a blackberry cobbler next weekend!

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 7:57 am

    Well, I don’t carry a purse but my wife does and when I’ve called her purse a pocketbook she always tells me it’s a purse and her pocketbook goes in her purse. The pocketbook has her drivers license, cards, and folding money. The purse has everything in it including makeup, receipts, loose change, and weighs a ton.
    Although we have been married 54 years she doesn’t want me getting in her purse. Wondering if any of you other ladies feel the same?

    • Reply
      Rebecca Freeman
      July 13, 2021 at 12:10 pm

      I’m smiling at many of these entries today. I call my bag a pocketbook, and I keep my wallet inside with my driver’s license, cards, etc. inside. What made me smile about your post is the issue of nobody going into someone else’s pocketbook or purse! I don’t remember making that an issue to my (now grown) kids, but they don’t get into my pocketbook. It was off limits for my siblings and me to get into my Mother’s pocketbook as well. And we didn’t dare even THINK about going into either of our grandmother’s pocketbooks!! LOL! My grandmother used to heft her pocketbook and, when it felt heavy to her, say, “Time to roll the coins!” Still makes me smile…

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    July 13, 2021 at 7:40 am

    I’ve never heard a wallet called a pocketbook, but it makes perfect sense. When I was growing up, a wallet was always a “billfold” and a purse always a “pocketbook.” I was also taught to never go into a ladies pocketbook. That just wasn’t done.

    I still don’t. When my wife asks me to get something from her pocketbook, I just bring her the whole thing. Thus, getting the eye roll and a verbal reminder that I’m not in SE Ohio anymore and I can get in there.

    But, that’s a taboo I can’t shake!

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 7:36 am

    I have always carried a pocketbook, although I am from the northeast. Since I moved to Flroida, everyone here calls theirs a purse and says Im “old fashioned”.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2021 at 7:31 am

    My grandmother always said pocketbook. I flip flop between purse an pocketbook. I prefer pocketbook because it reminds me of my grandmother. Thanks for always bringing up such wonderful memories.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    July 13, 2021 at 7:21 am

    Today, I mainly hear them referred to as “bag” and “billfold”. Growing up the word pocketbook was more common than purse or billfold. I do not remember hearing the “bag” reference until maybe sometime in the ’60s?

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 13, 2021 at 7:10 am

    My momma always carried a pocketbook so I did as well until sometime in my late teens.

  • Reply
    Faye Griswell
    July 13, 2021 at 6:51 am

    We have always called it a pocketbook but I find myself calling it a purse when I need to buy a new one for some reason.

  • Reply
    Donna W
    July 13, 2021 at 6:21 am

    I say purse, but my mother always said pocketbook.

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    July 13, 2021 at 6:18 am

    Oh my goodness, yes, I carry a pocketbook. In my family, if something does not go your way, you say, “I’m gonna git my pocketbook and go to the house!” I have said that (mostly kidding, but not always) up here in northeast Ohio, and these Yankees think I am a hoot. Down home in southeast TN, they’re liable to take me seriously, though.

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