Hen Party – What does "Hen Party" mean in British slang?

Hello and welcome to the slang podcast with me your host Louisa May Adams. After a short break we are back!

This show will give you the chance to hear, understand the origins and meanings of new slang and to use them immediately! So let’s get started…

Ok so this week’s episodes are inspired by my friend Rosie Higginbottom, who is soon to be married! I was telling my Italian friend about traditional english celebrations, concerning weddings… an important one being a hen party.

What is that she replied? A party for chickens?! Oh no!

The name is deceiving… so what exactly is a hen party?

A hen party H-E-N is a noun simply meaning a party for a woman who is going to get married, to which only her female friends are invited. Do not mistake this as any random party featuring lots of women, nor any of the specialized women-only parties like a baby shower or wedding shower.A hen party has a few rare traditions… we shall look at them shortly. This is a celebration found in many countries but the name hen party is specially used in the UK. In America it is known as a “bachelorette party” or in Italy an “addio al nubilato”.

So why in the UK do we say “hen”? In formal english hen signifies a “female of any bird species” and was first coined in the early 14th century. However in slang hen means woman, this term dates from 1620s.

Depending on which part of the UK you come from referring to a woman as a “hen” can have different effects.

In England it is seen as offensive – implying that a woman is an “old chick”.

In parts of Scotland, however, notably in Glasgow, addressing a woman or a girl as “hen” is a term of affection, such as sweetheart. Is important to note the lady who is addressed would be the one to determine whether or not she was offended by it.

So back to our event, hen party means “gathering of women,” which was first recorded 1887. So nowadays what takes place at a hen party? Depending on what type you want, usually there will be drinking, possibly a stripper, certainly some raucous laughter and dirty jokes. The bride to be may wear a big “L” as a necklace, this is the symbol that normally goes on a car for a learner driver, and implies the bride-to-be is a “learner” who is about to start having sex.

I know that doesn’t make much sense, but it’s tradition!

That’s our episode of the day. Now if you are invited to a hen party, you know exactly what to expect.

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Let’s catch up on soon!

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