fly/flies

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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fly/flies

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Nov 01, 2015 5:22 am

aaa
We’re talking men’s pants. In the British-authored book I’m reading the object is referred to in the plural:
<2015 “. . . before he had even zipped up his flies, he had punched her, knocking her back into the car door, . . [[page 133]]
. . . . . . . . .

“Hand relief?” She offered, eyeing his flies. “Hand relief with oil? Twenty extra.” [prostitute] [[page 223]]
. . . . . . . . .

Lurching forward, his flies still open, his trousers sliding down his hips, . . . [[page 315]]

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling)
First some definitions and etymology:

FLY noun: a) A fold of cloth that covers a fastening [[buttons/zipper]] of a garment, especially one on the front of trousers. b) The fastening opening covered by such a fold.—American Heritage Dictiionary

FLY noun: The sense of "a flight, flying" is from mid-15c. From the verb and the notion of "flapping as a wing does" comes the noun sense of "tent flap" (1810), which was extended to "strip of material sewn into a garment as a covering for buttons" [[and later zipper]] or some other purpose (1844).—Online Etymology Dictionary
________________________

So, the burning question is, why did the British take the American version from singular to plural? And, is plural the common British usage?

_________________________

Ken G – October 31, 2015

PS: Also see trouser flies, which I failed to check. (>:)
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Re: fly/flies

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Nov 01, 2015 12:15 pm

Ken maybe being an English gentleman requires that you have two coverings just to be absolutely positive that your tackle does not fall out mid bow or something. We Aussies being a rather uncouth lot have only one covering and simply refer to the said part of clothing as me fly.

As for example, "Me fly was open and me old fella was poking his nose out."

or,

"When my girlfriend saw my fly was open, and the young lady's knickers were round her ankles, I knew the game was up."

WoZ all zipped up
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Re: fly/flies

Post by Phil White » Sun Nov 01, 2015 5:24 pm

Yep, Ken, it is always plural in the UK. It is one of the absolute tests of an American/British speaker. Ne'er the twain shall meet. Some of the old tests such as airplane/aeroplane got/gotten and so on are no longer absolutely valid, but fly/flies continues to be so.

My guess is that it is by analogy with the many words that refer to something made of two parts and where the word is formed as a plural: scissors, pliers, trousers, pants...

Until reading your post, I had not realized that the "fly" actually refers to the flap of material covering the opening. I have always thought it was the opening itself, possibly precisely because of the plural formation.
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Re: fly/flies

Post by tony h » Sun Nov 01, 2015 7:28 pm

"fly" always seems to have a element of being loose or only partially secured as in a fly-sheet or flyer, fly the flag, fly loft.

My first tent was described as a "single fly". It had an opening that ran down one side of the triangle that formed the opening. There was no fitted ground- sheet. The scoutmaster's tent had a centre opening so each half of the triangle could be tied back and the phrase would be to "close the flies"; each fly would be tied to the centre pole. (Note: anyone with ribald thoughts should know better).

Certainly when button flies were common the two parts (the buttoned side and the button holed side) were both "flapping" until buttoned and the waist band fastened.

Maybe American tailors had a means of fabricating the opening so that only one side "flew" in which case it would be a fly.

These are thoughts what are mine. :)
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: fly/flies

Post by Wizard of Oz » Tue Nov 03, 2015 11:54 am

Curiouser and curiouser as a young girl might say. Tony in Aus a tent fly is a single piece of tent fabric that passes over the top of the tent to make it waterproof. You know how when it rains on a tent and you touch the tent it leaks? A tent fly prevents that happening. Also a tent fly can be erected on its own to provide a quick shelter on say a hiking trip. The part of the tent you refer to as being tied back is called a tent flap in Aus.

Troop Leader WoZ
1st Merewether
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Re: fly/flies

Post by Phil White » Tue Nov 03, 2015 12:04 pm

As a Brit, I would agree with WoZ. The "fly" or "fly-sheet" was the outer covering and the flaps were, well, flaps.
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Re: fly/flies

Post by tony h » Sun Nov 08, 2015 12:14 am

I agree with you about the fly sheet.

But I didn't see a tent with a fly sheet until the 70s.
My first tent looked like this http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2278/5801 ... 9ddf73.jpg although mine was set rather better.
No flysheet, no fitted ground sheet, you will notice the flies tied closed to the tent pole.
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

End of topic.
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