Word of the Day

purse strings

Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


the way in which money is controlled and spent by a group or organization

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The compound noun purse string is first found in the mid 15th century in a medieval English work, The Book of Margery Kempe, where it referred to a string or strings used to close a purse. The figurative use, which is almost always plural, started to be used around a century later.


The term purse strings harks back to the days when a purse was a bag, usually made of leather, whose entrance was closed by means of a string or strings. The expression is almost always used figuratively today, although literal uses are still found. In the figurative use, the purse strings stand for control of access to money, and typical collocating verbs include control and hold, as well as loosen and tighten. Similar notions of control are connected with another compound noun whose second element is strings, ‘apron strings‘. To be tied to someone’s apron strings means to be controlled by them to an unusual or unhealthy degree; the expression is generally used in relation to adult children and their parents but also in more extended contexts, for example to talk about a country severing its connections with one that has traditionally controlled it. Typical verb collocates here are tie, especially in the form ‘be tied to someone’s apron strings’, as well as untie, loosen, cut and sever.


If Aberdeen or any other team were close at Christmas I’m sure Celtic would just loosen the purse strings and spend a few quid to ensure they won the league.
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Congress controls the purse strings and can decide at any time to stop funding science of which it does not approve.
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Related words

spending, budget, finances

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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