Origin of 'Maggie's Drawers'

My dad yells this when running red lights. He swears it’s an old sailor expression. Does anyone have any clue how it originated, what it means, or how it was used?

I’ve (vicariously) heard the term used by U.S. Marines during target practice.

A spotter holds up a red circle to signify that the shooter has missed the target. This is called “Maggie’s Drawers.”
[sub]Maybe a joke about using panties as a signal-flag?[/sub]

  1. I know that this term goes back at least to the early sixties.
  2. Underpants. Just for jarbabyj, should she peek.

Not exclusively navy but an old military gunnery expression in general. When a shooter missed the entire target completely, a large white flag was waved by the monitor at (or in the case of navy gunnery, near) the target site. The flag had to be big so it could be seen by the people on the firing line a good distance away. The large white flag was reputed to be as big and white as “Maggie’s Drawers (underwear),” a probably fictional individual of large size and an intimate of some legendary gunnery chief’s (or sergeant’s) acquaintance. The term evolved to just referring to the flag as “Maggie’s Drawers”.

Among old time military types, it means to miss something completely.

May you never shoot Maggie’s Drawers.


Hmmm. TV, a white flag certainly makes more sense as “Maggie’s Drawers,” but I’m sure the signal was a red circle. (Which seems to me to be the association with the red light, unless Daowajan’s dad means that he “missed the red light completely.” Now I’d like to know what is the conventional signal – Pure white flag or red circle on white or something else entirely? Does it vary in different branches of the service?

Larry Mudd The red circle is a relatively recent innovation and I believe tends to be used for small arms’ fire. I believe the red circle is that spot used to highlight the points scored by putting the circle in back of black target between it and the white background.

When the target is missed, I believe the circle is moved in front of the target. But Maggie’s Drawers date back to at least World War I.

I also know it was prevalant in World War II. For a film reference, I vaguely remember that it is illustrated in the film “The Cain Mutiny”.

Trust me on this, it was a white flag. It might mean something different now, but it originally started out as a white flag. My father, a career military man during World War II, would use the same reference when someone completely missed the mark.


I agree white makes more sense, but I’m sure I’ve heard “Red Circle” more often. (Not that it comes up very much.) A cursory peek at the web turns up this vietnam era poem that seems to indicate a solid red flag:

And here’s a WWII-era reference that indicates a solid red flag, as well.

And another:

Aha! Here’s one confirmation that a red circle was used sometimes:

I’d be interested to know what D’s dad connects it with.

Larry Mudd you have clearly out-evidenced me. I stand corrected.


[fixed coding]

[Edited by bibliophage on 10-18-2001 at 04:37 AM]

Whoo-hoo. I’m right! :wink: Actually, TV, it makes sense to me that it would have been a white flag at some point. But I can’t resist one more cite, from an unlikely source:
The Museum of Menstruation.
[sub](I started a thread about it a while back.)[/sub]

:eek: It all begins to make sense… I’ll never think of “spotting” in the same way again!

Lighter cites it first in print from 1936. It certainly referred to just what Larry Mudd said.

It evidently was from a ribald song, which obviously came before 1936. An article in the 1942 version of American Speech said

Hey, that’s great! Can anyone provide the lyrics? The closest I could find was this site that has plenty of bawdy soldiers songs… …but only a passing reference to “Those Old Red Flannel Drawers That Maggie Wore.”
[sub]I’m still curious to know what Daowajan’s dad is referring to when he yells, though. That the light’s red, or that he missed it? Come on, Daowajan, don’t you check this board every seven minutes like the rest of us compulsive types?[/sub]

It’s a reference to the light being red, I think. He’s not too sure himself; I e-mailed him this thread.

And I DO normally check this board every seven minutes, but I’m home on fall break, and I’ve got to share an unstable computer with my little sister. I think I’ll start a pit thread about her computer.

I remember going to the ranges in Quantico in the late 50’s and that it was hard work tending the targets. What kept our spirits up was hoping for a “Maggie’s drawers”. Although I remember the circle on a stick, “Maggie’s drawers” was still a flag on a stick and it would be waved accompanied by the cheers of everyone behind the targets.

My dad and I talked about shooting last weekend. He said they still used a white flag in basic training in the late 40’s. Switched to a red one in the 50’s. He was in the military 22 years.

I wondered if they still use this term in the modern military?

They were in Maggie’s Dresser, as of this morning.


It took 10 years for them to get there?? :eek:

Vietvet1968 Active Marine 1965-1970! At Parrish Island Boot Camp when a recruit missed the entire target, it

Possible spam reported in hopefully humorous manner.

In my youth and strength when rifle marksmanship was sometimes tested over a known distance range with fixed paper targets the size of a bed sheet, the crew in the trench underneath of the target would mark the point of the bullet strike with a red disk on a pole so that the shooter and the shooter’s coach/spotter could adjust fire. If the shooter missed the bed sheet target altogether the crew waived a flag on a pole to monument the failure. The flag was “Maggie’s Drawers,” and its appearance was accompanied by whooping and guffawing all up and down the firing line.
The whole “Maggie’s Drawers” culture with its public humiliation of poor shots pretty much disappeared with the universal use of pop-up silhouette targets on train fire ranges where the emphases was in estimating ranges and adjusting aim to hit the target quickly rather than the precision musketry of the known distance bull’s-eye ranges.

Former USMC here, late eighties. On the range we had a metal disc on a stick, about a foot in diameter, that was red on one side and white on the other. The white was shown only for a bullseye (a 5), held up over the center of the target. A 4 was the red side over the center, 2 and 3 were the red side held up on either side of the target (I now can’t remember which was which), and a miss was the red side swept across the target left to right, and was still called Maggie’s Drawers, even though we didn’t use flags at all.