Toe rag is a popular pejorative slang expression, especially prevalent in the British Isles, used to refer to-, or describe someone as a contemptible, repulsive person.
Originally, the phrase used to refer to a strip of cloth that was used as a substitute for socks, being wrapped around people’s toes, hence the name “Toe rag”, although it may also be encountered as Tow-rag, due to the fact that its origins have started to fade from the mind of its regular user.
Similar to the Bumbaclot of Jamaica, the affront “Toe rag” boasts a long history, tied with a strip of cloth, that had an unflattering function.
Although the exact origin of the expression is not known, it started emerging in Britain in the mid 1800’s, with the first documented record of “Toe rag” being found in the autobiographical memoirs of John Frederick Mortlock, published in 1865, under the title “Experiences of a Convinct”.
By the 1870’s, the slang expression became widely associated with circus performers and various other peoples, dwelling on the edge of civilized life.
Despite its long life, “Toe rag” didn’t become widely recognized or used in the British Isles until the 1970’s, over a hundred years after its initial appearance on print.
It was popularized among the masses thanks to the television police drama, “The Sweeney” which ran between 1975 and 1978.
Despite this, it is rarely encountered in the United States, remaining a distinctive feature of British English, similar to the difference in Tomato, Tomahto.
“Toe rag” was first defined on Urban Dictionary on January 16th, 2003, with several entries following in the years to follow.