Knickers on the Line

“What’s the time?” asks Sue.

“Half past nine” I reply.

“Hang your knickers on the line!” we both say in unison, smiling.

That happy rejoinder has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember.  Ah, they just don’t write them like that anymore.  Sigh!

What makes that line so appealing is, of course, the word knickers.  Knickers is such an amusing little word — sometimes even to the point of being downright hilarious.

I still remember the telly, where an exasperated sitcom character only had to cry out “Oh, knickers!” to get a laugh.  Then there were the knicker-related jokes, like the woman police officer arresting a man and saying "Anything you say will be taken down ..." , to which he replied "Knickers."

And how did that little ditty go that we used to sing as kids?  Something like  "All the girls in France take their knickers down to dance.  All the girls in Spain wash their knickers down the drain."

Let's not forget Les Dawson, the now departed British comedian, getting a great deal of mileage from the word.

Without warning, he would contort his face into a caricature of a leering, dirty old man and yell “Knickers, knackers, knockers!”  That’s all, nothing else.

It never failed to bring the house down.



Sure, he had the knackers and knockers going for him as well but it just wouldn’t have been quite the same without the knickers.


Kind of like fish and chips without the salt and vinegar.

It’s just not the same is it?.



No, knickers are an essential ingredient in British humor (or should I say humour?).


So then I wondered about where you might hang your knickers at other times of the day.

Half past two — hang your knickers on the loo.

Half past three — hang your knickers on the tree.

Half past four — hang your knickers on the door.

Half past eight — hang your knickers on the gate.


The remaining hours of the day were far less inspiring.  Nevertheless, I felt a great sense of accomplishment for discovering four other places on which to hang one’s knickers at half past the hour.

Then Sue says “How did the rest of it go?”

“The rest of it?  I said in amazement, you mean there’s more?!!!”

I was quite taken aback by the revelation.  Somehow, I had managed to survive an entire half-century thinking that “hang your knickers on the line” was all there was to that little ditty.  Now I learn that there is more.

More!  It was music to my ears.    I got a warm and fuzzy feeling deep inside and immediately set off on a quest to find the lost lines.  I was ecstatic with anticipation.

Surely this was the reason that the Internet was invented.

It’s quite amazing what you can find with Google.  First, it turned up something called the Used Knickers Center; I decided that it was probably best not to go down that path.

Next it told me that knickers is an abbreviation of the Dutch-derived word “knickerbockers”.  Knickerbockers! — I like that word.  I think I like it more than knickers — it has a certain je ne sais quois.

What I would like to know is just how it became associated with ice-cream, as in Knickerbocker Glory.

Answer me that then!

Then, unlike Bono and U2, I found what I was looking for — the pièce de résistance — the hitherto unknown lines of the verse.  I was so delighted by what I had discovered that I was overcome by emotion and had to go and have a lie-down for a while.

There were, in fact, many variations on the theme.  Some versions said ten-to-nine, while others said ten-past-nine.  This was good news to me because it opened up three times as many opportunities to say “hang your knickers on the line” when someone asks for the time.

However, the really interesting bits were the missing lines.  Although there were several versions of them, many were very similar and I was able to distill them down into the following four rhymes:

Version 1

What's the time? — Half past nine,
Hang your knickers on the line.
When the milkman comes along
Hurry up and put them on.


Version 2

What's the time? — Half past nine,
Hang your knickers on the line.
What’s the time? — Half past ten,
Time to bring them in again.


Version 3

What's the time? — Half past nine,
Hang your knickers on the line.
When they're dry, bring them in
And iron them with the rolling pin.

They are all good but my favorite is:

Version 4

    What's the time? — Half past nine,
    Hang your knickers on the line.
    When they’re dry, take them in,
    Stick them in a biscuit tin.
    Eat a biscuit, eat a cake
    Eat your knickers by mistake.



Gotta love it.

I have vague recollections from when I was a kid that bloomers were also once very funny.  How did that rhyme go?  Something like "Aunty Mary kept a canary up the leg of her drawers ..."

Nowadays, I don’t suppose many people know what bloomers are and that somewhat dissipates their humor quotient.

Happily, knickers still remain as comical as ever — in my mind anyway.

An interesting side note is that knickers hold no humorous appeal over here whatsoever!  You see, knickers in the US are not ladies unmentionables (not that anything is unmentionable these days).  Whereas in the UK we are encouraged not to get our knickers in a twist, in the US they seek to avoid getting their panties in a bunch.

No, knickers over here are those peculiar looking pants worn by folks who speak in strange tongues of pars, birdies and bogeys, and pay lots of money to indulge in the rather curious activity of hitting little balls with big sticks.

It’s sad but true — knickers are just not funny in America.