Top Drawer – Phrase, Its Meaning & Origin

Meaning:

High quality, exceptional; something that’s very valuable.

​Example: Billy had a funny joke to tell. He’s been hyping up this particular joke for days now, saying it was a real top drawer one. He didn’t want to tell me it over the phone, because he thought it would be funnier to hear it in person. When he finally revealed the joke to me, well, it wasn’t that funny. But I laughed a little anyways to make him feel better.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Top shelf
2. Top notch
3. Red-letter
4. Out of sight
5. Tip-top

“Top Drawer” Origin

This phrase is said to have derived from the British expression ‘out of the top drawer,’ which used to be a way to describe someone’s social status. The drawers refer to chests that have several drawers from top to bottom, and usually the more valuable things are kept at the top for easier access.

This saying looks to have been made popular around the early 1900s. An example of that is seen in The Argus, October 1926, where it reads:

“Those who loved Rence Kelly in ‘Polly with a Past’ will love her even more as this frank, fresh young girl from the chorus, who speaks her mind and speaks it quickly, and who, although she ‘doesn’t come out of the top drawer,’ as she says, is pure gold through and through.”

The Phrase Finder mentions an earlier recording that is seen in the book The Hill, a Romance of Friendship by Horace Vachell, 1905:

“You’ll find plenty of fellows abusing Harrow,” he said quietly; “but take it from me, that the fault lies not in Harrow, but in them. Such boys, as a rule, do not come out of the top drawer.”


Example Sentence(s)

  1. There are many great players in basketball that have top drawer ball handling skills.

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