Why is the Word Pants Plural?

Or trousers for that matter, if you’re from the UK. I went with pants for the title simply because most of you, dear readers are American. Anyway, the burning question: why are these words so brazenly plural when they clearly refer to a single garment?

The answer is actually fairly straightforward. Trousers is plural partly because of a fairly simple misunderstanding. The word is derived from the old Irish word triubhas, which was singular, and referred to close-fitting shorts. The S at the end led people to assume it was a plural word, thus leading to trousers being plural.

There’s another, much simpler reason that these words, and other related ones such as shorts, jeans, tights, knickers, and drawers are all plural: originally each leg was a separate garment, put on individually, and tied together with a belt or rope. At some point some genius decided to unite the two legs, but the word remained plural anyway.

If it bugs you that we use a plural word for a singular garment by the way, don’t worry. Doubtless hipsters will soon bring individual single-leg trousers back into fashion, and we can strut around the town safe in the knowledge that our vocabulary matches our appearance.

8 thoughts on “Why is the Word Pants Plural?

  1. This issue does lead to errors when speaking in German. The German words for trousers, underpants and spectacles are:

    Hose
    Unterhose
    Brille

    All feminine singular.

    Even now, I sometimes make a slip of the tongue, referring to them in the plural. “Ich mag meine Brille. Die sind cool.” it takes a while to wash the English brain out…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha! That last paragraph. And I’ve wondered this too. When I go to China I have to second-guess myself when translating “a pair of pants” because in Chinese it is a singular object, but they also use measure words, so one wouldn’t say “a pair”. Rather, since the object is long-shaped, one would use the measure word “tiao” or say “yi tiao kuzi” (pants) which is the same measure word for river (“yi tiao he” or “a river”.) If I were to translate it directly and use the word “shuang” (as used “a pair of chopsticks”) I would be mistaken and corrected.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well that’s an interesting explanation…Thanks! Wouldn’t it be weird though, if we started saying ‘trouser’. Just doesn’t sound proper at all, even though English language ‘rules’ dictate that it would be the proper – umm, format. In my language it’s also plural. Housut – farkut. The ‘T’ being the same as the English ‘S’.

    Like

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