Submitted by goossun on June 19, 2005

Joke

What does this joke mean? “Utility knickers - one Yank, and they’re off.” I’ve heard it in the movie, Enigma by Michael Apted and have no idea what that refers to. There was nothing in the context that could help either. By the way, the story takes place during the World War II (if you haven’t seen the movie.)

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“Yet” is sometimes combined with other conjunctions such as “but” or “and.” It is perfectly acceptable to see “and yet” in sentences. "And yet" as a transitional phrase used to show contrast. Also – yellow, pink, purple and blue unicorns fly out of my butt. This is to prove that anyone can say anything in the comments section of a web forum without being required to demonstrate one shred of evidence as to the truth of the statement(s) being made.

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“Yet” is sometimes combined with other conjunctions such as “but” or “and.” It is perfectly acceptable to see “and yet” in sentences. "And yet" as a transitional phrase used to show contrast. This is to prove that anyone can say anything in the comments section of a web forum without being required to demonstrate one shred of evidence as to the truth of the statement(s) being made.

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Sorry to rub it in for American readers, and of course Britain is very grateful for all the help you gave us, but a common description for American soldiers among their British counterparts was 'Overpaid, oversexed and over here'.

Or as the somewhat bigoted Steptoe puts it in this (very old) clip from the comedy series 'Steptoe and Son' - 'Coming over here in 1917, splashing it about and having all our women' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s57RjAY59uU. This episode plays on those two great British pastimes, knocking the Americans and knocking the French.

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Incidentally, it was a real-life quip, common at the time - it wasn't invented just for the film.(Source, like Soubriquet's, my mother!)

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Bravo, Soubriquet!

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I was born in London in 1944 and I remember 'utility' things, with the CC mark. This is mainly because anything marked 'utility' lasted for years and years. Of course, during the war commodities such as clothing and furniture could not be replaced easily, so anything that was made, was made to last, unlike the present day when everything is 'throw-away'. I think low-income people would welcome 'utility' quality in this day and age.

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Soubriquet - A very insightful viewpoint. Thanks for the history lesson.

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I see it's time for an english explanation...
My mother, 19 in 1940, is my source for definitive answers. First, Utility is as opposed to luxury. Not an improved design, far from it, and nothing to do with modesty.
In a country at war, under siege, blockaded, goods were scarce, what came in on those ships that survived the atlantic convoys was apportioned by rationing. New clothes were scarce, the term make-do and mend was prevalent. Prior to the war, women might wear underclothes that were loose, made of fine fabrics, and stylish. But the maximum number of garments had to be made from the minimum amount of cloth, so utility clothing was significantly less desirable. Silk was unavailable, it was needed for parachutes and folding maps, light yet strong cordage, certainly not to be wasted on underclothes.
Britain had been at war, fighting, working hard, bombed, for a long time before America joined in. All the young, fit men were in uniform, and most were far away, fighting, dead, captured, wounded. Those who were in england had little time off base for meeting girls. Then Pearl Harbour. And suddenly britain was filled with young americans, fit, healthy, well fed, well paid, and with plenty of leisure time at first. They were resented a bit, because they had no idea of the hardships people here were under, and saw all the girls as available, regardless of circumstance.
To the british, they were all yanks, it was not a derogatory term, the distinctions of north and south meant nothing to people here, you are people of one country, not two.
So yank was not an insult to southerners, just a friendly name for americans.
These young men were immensely rich, and had candy bars, chocolate, could give girls silk and nylon stockings, could bring canned food to their homes and give the family, who existed on rations, a banquet. No surprise, then that some girls abandoned their distant boyfriends and husbands to party with americans.
Servicemen bartered sex for goodies, as ever.
Another british joke of the time was "I came home on the first leave in two years and found I'd got a new baby-'Must have been those passionate letters you wrote', she said"
So. One Yank and they were often off. A lot of those girls were G.I. brides and were shipped by the hundreds to have their babies in america.
But over here we haven't forgotten either, that those young men died on the Normandy beaches, in the skies over europe, fought their way to berlin, bled on english earth, although there will always be a rivalry between us, we don't forget that those young men came from a safe place to fight for freedom here. And many stayed forever.

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Actually, let me correct myself. Knickers probably refers to underpants. We don't use the term knickers in the US, in spite of the New York Knicks (knickerbockers).

And yes, Inghis, the women could have been jumping on the outgoing, macho americans. At least, that would be the interpretation if one Yank told the joke to another.

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I like this detour into the term Yank and will only add that as a Chicagoan, I don't mind being called a Yank by a fellow Yank, but to be called such by a southerner or a foreigner, I think I would have to judge the use by its context. In the present example, I should think that its a derisive intent, and that this is a joke told to best effect between two damn Brits:)

And to respect the call to get back on topic, I will say that a bra that came off eaily, with one yank, would actually have been quite desirable by the wearers, since in the past I suspect that women have had to entangle themselves in all manner of contraptions.

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I don't believe the British make any distinction between Northerners and Southerners when they use the term "Yank".

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Without going wildly off-topic and getting into value and historical arguments, suffice it to say that Northerners see "Yank" as a patriotic term for Americans but Southerners... who knows.

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Actually, Ingis, I would argue your statement:

>>>And thou it may have been meant as such, "Yank" was not perceived as derogatory by Americans. The word today is virtually neutral, but from the time of the American Revolution to WWII it was used as a term of pride. "The Yanks are coming!"<<<<

The brash American alluded to in this joke is not synonymous with a Southerner. In fact, I believe Southerners are as suited to compare with the Yankees as the British are.

***sidenote, no, I'm not a Southerner...Kansas City-native (and no, Kansas City is not in the South!!), Denver-resident***

Northerners maintain their specific nickname "Yank" because there is an entirely different way of life, logic, beliefs, and customs common to the North (past and present).

Certainly, the connotation of a Yankee has broadened some since Scarlett O'Hara was sobbing in the fields about "Yankees in Tara?!"

But to add two more cents to this debate, I, for one, would not like to be referred to as a Yank or Yankee although I am an American.

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So quick to blame the Yanks... :p
Maybe the British female is more attracted to the outgoing Americans and has nothing to do with any perceived lechery.

And thou it may have been meant as such, "Yank" was not perceived as derogatory by Americans. The word today is virtually neutral, but from the time of the American Revolution to WWII it was used as a term of pride. "The Yanks are coming!"

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I don't want to state the obvious, but in case you missed Sarah's point, a "Yank" is a derogatory name for an american. This joke probably pokes at the putatively lecherous, grasping american soldiers taking advantage of British girls, when the soldiers were stationed in great numbers in Britain during WWII. All it would take was one "Yank" in the room and he'd have her knickers off. As opposed to a room filled with British men, who would respect her dignity. Brits are often portrayed as having better social skills than the archetypically loud, brash americans. Even american movies and such will portray this stereotype, except that we will usually come to find that the loudmouth guy was really the one who had better character, courage, etc.

Thanks for finding a fun expression.

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Forgive me for asking, but does anyone know if utility knickers are, or were, similar to modesty knickers?

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Utility (or CC41) clothing was produced in Britain as part of the war effort. Look at this:

www.1940.co.uk/history/article/utility/utility.htm

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Thanks Sarah, I did not know the other meaning of "yank." So it apparently pans with "yank" and "Yank." I'm sure of that because I checked the subtitle for “hard of hearing” and Yank was capitalized.
But I think the word "utility" refers to something more than being handy or any direct sense of the word. I guess it's some organization or maybe a brand or something having to do with Germans I suppose or something to that extent. I’m just guessing.

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My read on the joke is as follows (explaining the funny element of a joke is always hard, keep in mind):

"utility knickers"--acts as if these are a new-fangled kind of knickers (underwear) that make them easier/handier,etc. (hence, "utility")

"one yank and they're off"--this works on two levels. It takes just one "yank" (or tug/pull,etc) and they're off. It also could just take one "Yank" and they're off, which is the humorous read, as "Yank" refers to a northern Yankee....befitting the WWII setting.

I hope that helps, ~sarah

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