Ah, the pocketbook vs. purse debate. What is the difference, really? Like most great debates, it depends on who you ask. Interestingly, the difference seems most evident across different generations and regions: simply a word choice variation as opposed to an actual bag variation. Some differentiate pocketbook vs. purse depending on the size of the bag. Still, others use the terms depending on the time of day. Confused yet? Let’s break it down.
There are always exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, the Northeast and Southeast regions of the United States offer the most usage of the term pocketbook. Meanwhile, purse remains the more common term across the West, Southwest, and Midwest. Interestingly, outside of the United States, pocketbook is not a term often—if ever—used.
Although “official” language research shows the use of the words pocketbook and purse is spread fairly evenly across generations, the general consensus on forums and the like point to “pocketbook” being a more old-fashioned term. However, a word sounding old-fashioned doesn’t mean it’s not regularly used. If anything, many actually favor the word because of its old-timey, classic feel. Overall though, younger generations tended to favor the words “purse” or simply “bag.”
Some women refer to their “day” bag as a pocketbook and their “evening” bag as a purse. It would seem that both words can even apply to the same bag depending on the time of day. “Time for lunch—let me grab my pocketbook!” vs. “Dinner sounds wonderful! I’ll just get my purse.”
Here’s where the pocketbook vs. purse debate really gets confusing. Depending on who you ask, you will find the exact opposite answer about the size difference between a pocketbook and a purse. Some will say a purse is small and used for carrying bills and coins—perhaps a shortened version of the term “coin purse.” A pocketbook, then, is a bag in which to carry your purse. Many others, however, say a pocketbook is smaller—not necessarily small enough to fit in a pocket, but smaller than a purse—and used more as a wallet or clutch. A purse, then, is a bag large enough to carry your pocketbook inside.
Unfortunately (or fortunately!), there isn’t actually a definitive answer to the pocketbook vs. purse debate. Bottom line: use the term that you prefer whenever you want, and you will be correct either way. Meanwhile, be sure to shop our line of women’s leather pocketbooks and purses—and call them whatever you want.