Monday, August 22, 2005
More on trousers and plurality
Well, in a sort of serendipity, my comments about pants and shorts the other day found some answers when I picked up a short book – Max Vocab, by Max Cryer – on the derivations of some English words, and found a chapter (also short) on trousers and related words. He still doesn’t tell us why trousers is plural, or knickerbockers for that matter, or strides, or slacks, or leggings, or tights, or breeches, or pants, or shorts. Supposedly at one point in history pants did get called ‘pant’ but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it used, even in older books. Cryer talks about two ‘tubes’ as being the thing common to all of these garments, and that they were around before Christ in some form. I wonder if the ancient nomads in Asia used a plural word, or the Romans, when they adopted them (you see them in films like Jesus of Nazareth where the Roman soldiers have some kind of tubers that extend to just below the knee, like tight knickerbockers, or even to the length of plus fours – which apparently comes from extending knickerbockers four inches!). So, in a sense, I’m none the wiser in terms of my original question: why are all these words plural? And why does it sound so odd to singularise them?