trousers / pants

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trousers / pants

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Jun 03, 2004 9:51 am

Hi, I am looking for the origin of "pair of pants" -- why pair when it is one article of clothing?

Nanci, USA-Michigan
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trousers / pants

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:05 am

Random House Unabridged

PANTS noun (used with a plural verb): 1) trousers (def. 1). 2) underpants, especially for women and children; panties. 3) British men's underpants, especially long drawers. 4) wear the pants, to have the dominant role; be in charge: I guess we know who wears the pants in that family. [1830–40; short for PANTALOONS]

PANT adjective 1) of or pertaining to pants: pant cuffs. 2) See pant leg. 3) pants (defs. 1, 2) [1890–95; sing. of PANTS]

PANT LEG noun: a leg of a pair of pants. Also called pant. [1955–60]

TROUSERS noun (used with a plural verb): 1) Sometimes, trouser. Also called pants. a usually loose-fitting outer garment for the lower part of the body, having individual leg portions that reach typically to the ankle but sometimes to any of various other points from the upper leg down. Cf. Bermuda shorts, breeches, knickers (def. 1), short (def. 37a), slacks 2) pantalets [1585–95; trouse (variation of TREWS) + (DRAW)ERS]—trouserless, adj.

Merriam-Webster Unabridged

PANTS noun" plural but sometimes singular in construction
Usage: often attributive [short for pantaloons, plural of pantaloon]

1) also PANT a) (1) PANTALOON 2 (2) : TROUSERS, SLACKS b) chiefly Britain: men's short underpants c) PANTIE

2) PANT noun singular: half or one leg of a pair of pants

3) enclosures of streamline shape used to reduce the drag of airplane landing gear

–WITH ONE's PANTS DOWN: in an embarrassing position (as of being unprepared for an emergency) <caught with its pants down by the surprise attack>

World Wide Words:


I've looked at the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, which suggests that the form pair of pants was standard right from its earliest use. Indeed, words for nether garments all seem to have been commonly plural throughout their history, often prefixed by pair of ...: breeches, shorts, drawers, panties, tights, knickers (short for knickerbockers), and trousers.

Pants is short for pantaloons, also plural, which in their very earliest incarnations were nearer stage tights; their name comes from a Venetian character in Italian commedia dell'arte who was the butt of the clown's jokes and who always appeared as a foolish old man wearing pantaloons. Commentators referred to them when they first appeared as being a combination of breeches and stockings. Later the word was applied to fashionable tight-fitting trousers.

Trousers came into the language in the seventeenth century from the Gaelic trowse, a singular word for a slightly different garment rather more like breeches; a later version of it was trews, taken to be a plural because of the final s. Breeches has been plural throughout its recorded history, a long one (it dates from at least the year 1200).

According to several costume historians who have helped me with this reply, the answer to all this conventional plurality is very simple. Before the days of modern tailoring, such garments, whether underwear or outerwear, were indeed made in two parts, one for each leg. The pieces were put on each leg separately and then wrapped and tied or belted at the waist (just like cowboys' chaps). The plural usage persisted out of habit even after the garments had become physically one piece. However, a shirt was a single piece of cloth, so it was always singular.

It's worth noting that the posher type of tailor, such as in London's Savile Row, still often refers to a trouser and the singular pant and tight are not unknown in clothing store terminology in America - so the plural is not universal.

Ken G - March 21, 2002
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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trousers / pants

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:34 am

Has anyone ever heard " I want to get into your trousers"?
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