Good morning everyone!
Between my job as a lawyer, my writing here, e-mails, that wonderful, terrible, addictive game, Words With Friends, and some other writing that I do, I usually write a great many words in one day. In the course of doing so, every once in a while a word will strike me as strange, and yesterday, it was the word “pants” which started me wondering – why is the word “pants” plural? For that matter, why are most words involving things we wear on our legs (with the exception of variations of “panty hose”) plural?
We wear, on other parts of our anatomy, a shirt, a blouse, a T-shirt, a hat, a dress (well at least some of us wear a dress occasionally), a skirt, a suit. We wear a belt to keep our pants up. We wear a scarf, either for warmth or decoration.
Givenchy Scarves; Photograph from Wikimedia Commons by Themepark Mom
We do wear shoes and socks, but that makes sense, because there are two of them, one for each foot. The same is true for gloves and mittens – they are not connected, and we wear one on each hand. If I am going to wear one, I say I am going to wear a mitten on one hand, and a glove on the other, making the singular/plural use logically consistent.
Motorcycle Riding Gloves
But when it comes to our legs, we wear pants, trousers, slacks, shorts, tights, leggings and jeans. Even things that hold our pants up in the years before elastic or belts (apparently) were plural – suspenders. In years of yore, little girls wore pantaloons.
Pantaloons peek out underneath this little girl's dress from 1838.
The only other things that we wear that are treated the same way are eyeglasses – there is really only one unit. but glasses and spectacles always are plural, also. (Notice I have to say “are glasses” not “is glasses” even though technically if I am wearing glasses, I am wearing one item. Of course, the store that makes glasses charges me as much for them as if I really were getting two units of something and not one, but that involves the science/art of economics, which makes my head hurt.)
We even went out and made another word, monocle, for glasses with one lens, rather than just calling it a “glass” because it only involves one eye.
Actress and Screenwriter Ruth Gordon wearing a monocle in November 1919
I have read through a couple of on-line etymologies for the word “pants” and while interesting – through a long chain of events, the origin for the word “pants” comes from a Christian martyr, Saint Pantaleone, who was beheaded six times, and each time his head reattached and he continued to live (Pantaleone basically means “all compassionate” and I guess being beheaded six times and having your head reattach would certainly help you in being compassionate) – eventually they all can be boiled down to “see trousers.” When you look at “trousers,” the etymology explains that the root of the word “trousers” is the Scottish “trews.” No one explains why “trews” is plural.
A painting of Sir John Sinclair wearing trews - they look like pants to me!
That just struck me as odd.
Trousers - they still look like pants to me!
If anyone has an idea about why pants are plural, I’d love to hear about it! Otherwise, I am afraid it will be time soon to go back to research the Ugg Clan’s family history one more time….
Have a great day everyone!