Friday, April 29, 2011

"not my cup of tea" vs. "not my bag"

Hye Yoon asks:

I read an expression "It's not my bag" online, and assumed that it means "It's not my cup of tea." Is there any subtle difference when using the word "bag"? It seems that this expression goes with "baby", say "It's not my bag, baby!" If there is some tones or feelings involved in this, would you let me know. Another example is "I definitely don't want to become a parent. It's not my bag."

They mean the same thing: something you don't like to do or is not your preference. What I'm asking myself is, is there a situation where I would use one but not the other. I can't think of one. However, not my bag seems like 1960s "hippie" slang to me. In researching this, I did find that "bag" was a synonym for "drug of choice," and in that context, not my bag makes more sense as an expression for preference. Not my cup of tea, brings to mind a British or "high society" association, and consequently seems like the older expression and probably more universal. Its meaning also more obvious if the person you're talking to doesn't know the expression, where "not my bag" could be slightly confusing.

Another expression that comes to mind similar to these is the very simple statement, not my thing. This is even more obvious, and is a perfectly common idiom. As a side note, as a kind of humorous word play, from time to time I like to say "not my cup of thing," which combines the two expressions but is, essentially, nonsense.

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