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?


Anonymous said...

As one linguist said "My trousers are plural at the bottom and singular at the top. Trousers are part of a surprisingly large number of plural only words or pluralia tantum. Once wrote a 2000 word essay on them. An interesting one is nappy which is often used in the singular (Pass me a nappy) until on the baby (Isn't she cute in ther nappies)- same with daipers.

Mike Crowl said...

Well, that's all very interesting...hadn't thought about the word 'nappy'. I don't suppose your 2000 word essay is available online?