I am confused! Definitions please

I think I have a newfound addiction - knitting and felting bags! So I am googling for free patterns, lol! But I am getting confused - how’s a tote different from a bag different from a purse??? Don’t know if it’s just a cultural thing or maybe I just wasn’t taught right, but I always just thought purse is what girls have as opposed to what boys have called wallets, so some of the “purse” patterns are what I’d call bag/handbags.

A tote tends to be larger and has an open top, but otherwise they’re pretty much interchangeable terms as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve always called a purse a handbag, a tote is what Mason said, and a wallet is a wallet.:shrug:

Well women and men use wallets equally. Women tend to carry their wallets in their purses along with everything else in there life.

And totes to purses to handbags and whatever other “bag” name you can come up with is just another variation of a bag.

Like a pair of pants can be slacks, or jeans or low rise, high rise, flared, skinny, wide leg, short… the name just indicates a slightly different style.

Totes tend to be larger with an open top.

Clutch - Purse without straps

Purse tends to have straps

so many variations for a bag. Which means one thing. So many more options for us to choose from!

You can also check out this page HandBag 101

the link should bring you to the glossary which will tell you about everything from bag types to even fabrics used in a list.

Thank you everyone :cheering:


'tis indeed confusing. If I said I’d lost my purse, I’d mean the small, leather, money wallet-type thing with a clasp - the one I keep my cash in. I wouldn’t mean that I’d lost my handbag or my shoulder bag.

A tote bag to me, means a bag with long handles or something that used to be known as a ‘duffle bag’ (back in the mists of time) or a bag you can just get on your shoulder and have the rim of the thing under your arm.

I still find it odd that Americans say ‘purse’ for hand or shoulder bag and ‘pocket book’ for purse.

As the man said: ‘Two countries divided by a common language.’:passedout:

Hi there! I’m in Canada. My Scottish grandfather called his money holding item a purse, as you do. Maybe it’s a British term? In visiting the U.S.A., I hear what I call a purse, a handbag, being called a pocketbook. Which to me is something to read. I always have to think when I hear my sil talking about her pocketbook. Very confusing isn’t it! :lol: We call handbags purses or handbags, interchangeably. And my wallet goes into mine. :think: And Mason’s definition of a tote I agree with. Usually open and they can be larger than an everyday handbag. Purse. Some totes are huge, and I have a quite small one for knitting projects. Wallets are where I keep my money and cards. My grandfather’s purse. Around and around we go!!! I can see why you are mixed up! Maybe you can see sizes on the patterns and that will help you decide? That’s what I usually do. Good luck from another handbagpurse knitter! samm

Hi Samm

I think you’re right about the pocket-book. Whenever I heard the term I used to think that it was a pocket-sized diary or calendar thingymebob.

All the Best

I think pocketbook is an East Coast thing. I had a friend from New Jersey who always called her purse a pocketbook. She called hamburger chopped meat, too.

My wallet contains my money, cards and DL. It goes in my pocket or a purse or tote bag.

Hi Suzeeq

You’re right, I heard the term ‘pocketbook’ when I lived in Massachusetts. They also call a groundhog a woodchuck … I’m just not saying what they called me!


We use pocketbook on the East Coast as a general “women’s bag filled with wallet and other stuff” term. You can specify what kind of bag it is with words like “tote” or “purse” or “clutch” or whatever. :teehee:

I’m from NJ and I never heard hamburger called “chopped meat.” It’s a hamburger. Before it’s a hamburger, it’s ground beef. :shrug:

Coulda been what my friend’s family just called it then… I thought it was a NJ thing.

Semantics. Semantics. Dontcha just love English?

What is that thing my husband lies on…
a) couch?
b) sofa?
c) davenport?
d) daveno?

Your answer gives away where you live, and your age.:thumbsup:

Same goes for many things…such as the terms you brought up: purse, handbag, bag.

Tote falls into another category of carryall. Is it a tote, carryall, or shopper?

Your answers give away where you live and your age! :thumbsup:

There are no wrong answers! :waving:

I’m in CT, and people here call hamburger chopped meat as well. However, there are hamburgers that one buys at fast food chains or cook on the grill. One is the ingredient, one is the finished product.

And, purses here are called pocket books. I’m from CA, and never dealt with these terms prior to moving here. Had to learn the lay of the land, the weather, what on earth a ‘nor’easter’ is, the difference between ice and sleet, and then pocket book vs purse! LOL

As soon as I read the term “pocketbook” on this thread…I immediately thought of Judge Judy. She calls a handbag/purse/bag a “pocketbook”!

Out here in the Pacific Northwest, “pocketbook” is unheard of! If someone used the term at Nordstrom…“Say, can you tell me…where are your pocketbooks?”…the sales associate would probably direct you to Barnes and Noble! :teehee:

Dontcha just love English??

Yep, pocketbooks were what paperbacks were first called, because you could slip them into a pocket. The first publisher of them used a kangaroo as a logo…