In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, fashion columnist Elizabeth Wellington gives advice on what to wear to summer festivals. She warns men to be aware of what’s on their t-shirts because

the wrong phrase or picture can turn a nice guy into a lout. Topics to stay away from: how good you are in bed, how many women you can pull, how much beer you can guzzle.

I’ve noted this particular “pull” quite a bit in the U.K., but not till now in America. The OED has this definition and citations:

 a. Brit. slang. To pick up (a partner), esp. for sexual intercourse; to seduce. Also intr.

1965   Sunday Express 25 July 17/2   As a young man I could never pull (pick up) any birds of my own class.
1973   E. Boyd & R. Parkes Dark Number vi. 69   Five years ago you did the big male-menopause bit, didn’t you? Skulking off to Paris to prove you could still pull the birds.
1985   J. Sullivan Only Fools & Horses (1999) I. 4th Ser. Episode 6. 246   Rodney, use your loaf, you’re never gonna pull a tart dressed up like Bertie Bassett.
1993   Bella 29 Sept. 40/1   ‘So you’re a barman,’ she said with a wicked glint in her eyes. ‘I bet you don’t have any trouble pulling.’
The first and most popular definition on Urban Dictionary was posted in 2003 by  an English contributor:
“Word used to describe the successful act of attracting a person to such an extent that you would be able to snog or perhaps bone them if you so desired.
With the help of my lucky Y-fronts I should pull tonight.”
I leave open the question of whether “Y-fronts” is a Britishism, and what in fact it is.
Update: After I tweeted about this post, Elizabeth Wellington, who is African-American, responded: “please ‘pulling chicks’ has been a part of hood vernacular for a minute. :)”
So there you go.

13 thoughts on ““Pull”

  1. “Rodney, use your loaf, you’re never gonna pull a tart dressed up like Bertie Bassett.”

    I’m guessing that’s almost as impenetrable to Americans as the infamous ‘Cheeky Nandos’ post that went viral a couple of years back. Was ‘Only Fools’ shown in America, is it known of in America?

  2. If I was in a night club in the UK and feeling over-confident, I might approach a woman – having never spoken to her before – and say “Get your coat, love – you’ve pulled.” the inference being that I am so drop-dead gorgeous that we are to instantly leave together. Much is made of this line in sexist jokes.

    Y-fronts refers to a pair of underpants with an upside-down letter ‘Y’ on the front forming the aperture where a man can gain access to his little friend in order to urinate without too much disrobing. They have been around since at least the 1960s and are now favoured more by the conservative-dressing gent, having been side-lined by briefs, boxers, etc.
    Ben’s thread has reminded me that years ago, I had a pair of lucky Y-fronts which – once I had realised their invisible seductive power – I kept for the sole purpose of going out on the pull. Now, I wonder where they are…

  3. Nice one Ben! (And this post was actually sent to me by a British colleague who is a fan of the blog.) Here’s an even earlier reference of this use of “pull” I noticed recently. Squeeze’s 1978 hit “Cool for Cats.” In the first verse after the musical interlude: “Shape up at the disco and I think I’ve got a pull.”

  4. “Y fronts” were a brand of underwear. Named after the upside-down “Y” shape of the seaming on the front (where the slit is).

    1. I shoukd add that “Y fronts” have never been at the forefront of fashion (more practical comfort than glamour) – so the comment was ironic.

  5. Noticed an unusual use of this word on Brooklyn 99: Terry says of a writer of nerdy books that “he *pulls*”, emphasizing it to suggest he does so frequently and/or way out of his league. The fact that he used the word several times as a gag, and to the annoyance of another character, makes it seem like a neologism that hasn’t quite taken yet, but it’s also taken for granted that the audience and other characters know what it means.

  6. there is also the phrase ‘out on the pull’, meaning going out with only one view in mind, It’s very much applicable to anyone – male, female or other.

  7. Y-fronts are, at least sartorially, the equivalent of American tighty-whities/BVDs.

    Pull, as I understand it, is (like so much British slang) a short form of “pulling mussels from a shell” (there’s Squeeze again). If you visualize inserting a cylindrical pick into a half-opened mussel to extract the meat, the sexual analogy should be pretty obvious.

    1. I think of it more in the sense of a magnet attracting a piece of iron. Didn’t the phrase ‘pull a crowd’ exist before ‘pull a bird/bloke’? No mussel picking analogy needed there.

  8. “After I tweeted about this post, Elizabeth Wellington, who is African-American, responded: “please ‘pulling chicks’ has been a part of hood vernacular for a minute. :)”

    It’s a fair point within its context of ‘pulling’ specifically but I have never heard an African-American, in fact any American, say pull as thus: ‘Right lads, I’m off out on the pull tonight”, as you would hear commonly in the UK.

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