the weekly pants


After my most recent post of seriousness, and being too tired/sleep-deprived just now to put together coherent thoughts, I feel compelled to return to our regularly scheduled silliness. And what could be sillier than pants?

I also feel that while this blog boasts more posts on pants that the average blog, I can do better. I’m sure I can bring you more pants. With that goal in mind, I’ll try to post on a pants topic once a week. I won’t commit to a day. I’ll just surprise you with pants some day each week, out of the blue. Pants! And besides, every day of the week should be pants day.

To get the pants rolling (can pants roll?), I’ll share a tidbit from a lovely book called Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth Behind the Words You Use, by Bill Brohaugh. This book, given to me by the friend who was recently brave enough to be one of our house guests, contains some very entertaining etymological goods. According to Unfortunate English, pants are “a garment that has its origins in buffoonery and farce:”

The word traces back to commedia dell’ arte, an old Italian theatre form (beginning in the 1500s) combining improvisation and standard bits actors could weave in at appropriate moments. One of the stock characters in this theatre form was Pantalone, a mean, miserly merchant and a bit of a dirty old man.[…]

The Pantalone character wore tight-fitting trousers or leggings. Trousers like those worn by Pantalone were called pantaloons in the 1600s, and by the 1700s the word was applied to trousers (as opposed to knee breeches) in general. By the mid-1830s, the word had been shortened to pants… (p. 75)

Another point made by the author is that because of the associations with the dirty old man Pantalone character, a comic figure, the term pantaloons has roots in “making light of old folk:”

…by the 1600s the word pantaloon meant “old codger.” (p. 76)

It’s interesting to see how pantaloon’s descendent pants has matured, having now lost this meaning of mockery of the matured.

3 thoughts on “the weekly pants

  1. Oh, talk pantsy to me, alejna.

    I loved this. Shocking, I know. But true.

    It made me laugh because there is a certain city councillor whose last name happens to be Pantalone and Joe always jokingly refers to him as “Joey da Pants.” He was much closer to the truth than I bet he ever knew.

  2. How delightful to find such a lively discussion of pants on the web (your kind words about my book Unfortunate English certainly doesn’t hurt).

    In the book, I talk about some rather ribald differences between British and American English (that section is R-rated, folks!). One difference that I didn’t get opportunity to slip in is that to the Brits, pants are what we call “underpants” or “panties.” Now that could lead to some interesting misunderstandings.

    Anyway, thanks again for the kind words, and may your pant-a-week posting goal come easily, so as to not leave you panting.

  3. Sage-
    Pants, pants, pants pants. Pants!

    Bill-
    What an unexpected and pleasant surprise for you to stop by! I hope you don’t mind the mess. Can I offer you something to drink, or perhaps some lettuce or beets?
    I have yet to read your whole book from cover to cover, but have gotten much pleasure from flipping through it and coming across bits randomly. (We were quite taken with the section on plagiarism, for example. Carried away by it, as it were.) But I may well have to skip right to the ribald British vs. American English section. Even though it is not wearing pants.

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