A Brief History of Period Slang

A list of the things people have been calling vagina blood since the 18th century. (Spoiler alert: “art” isn’t on the list.) By Kara McGinley

P.S. In honor of this post, the main image is a throwback to Petra Collins’ Crimson Crusade film.

The first time I heard the term “on the rag” I was having sex with a friend of a friend after the Super Bowl. We decided to step out of the all-you-can-eat buffet and into my apartment.

“Shit, girl! Are you on the rag?” he exclaimed.


Unbeknownst to me, Aunt Flo came to town early. I was surfing the Crimson Wave. Yes, I was on the rag.

Humans have used slang and euphemisms to describe menstruation for centuries. According to Jonathon Green, slang lexicographer and author of the three-volume slang dictionary titled Green’s Dictionary of Slang (as well as many other works), we use slang in order to address topics society has deemed as “difficult” in polite or humorous ways. He also notes that while slang is known as a male-gaze, man-made language, women more often use it.

I know what you’re probably wondering: What did your great great great great great great grandma say to her suitors while menstruating? Well, let’s take a step back in blood-trailed time with this historical timeline of menstruation related slang:

Late 18C – Late 19C

The cardinal is at home [late 18C]

Flash the red rag [early 19C/1900s]

The flag is up (also flag is in port, the flag is out) [late 19C+]

There is a letter in the post office [late 19C – 1910s]

Road is up for repairs [mid-late 19C]

The reds [late 19C]

Poorliness [late 19C]

Red rag [late 19C+]: (used to refer to a sanitary towel)

Window-blind [late 19C]: (sanitary towel)

Early 20C – Late 20C

Dog-days [1910s]

Little friend [1920s+]

It looks like a wet weekend [1930s+]

Bloody Mary [1940s]

Ammunition [1940s+]: (used to refer to tampon or sanitary towel)

Aunt Flo [1950s+]

Out of order [1970s+]

Ride the cotton pony [1970s+]

Spark plug [1990s]: (tampon)

Saddle blanket [1990s]: (menstrual pad)

Surf the crimson wave [1990s]

In the saddle [1990s+]

Red sails in the sunset [20C]

Have the painters in [20C]

Wallflower week [20C]

Monthly bill [20C]

Entertain the general [20C]


So, to answer the question, your great great great great great great great grandma probably said something like, “Just let me remove my window-blind, it’s my dog days.”

And if her suitor said no, she replied with something along the lines of, “lol, byeeee Felicia.”

Kara McGinley is a writer living in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karamcginley  @femininitees



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