Yesterday I bought either a pair of pants or two pairs of pants. I thought it was the latter but the tag suggested the former.
A tag on the back pocket read: “The most comfortable pant ever.”
I have always referred to the single garment as a “pair of pants.” However, once a tweed-wearing salesman at an upscale men’s store in Durham, N.C., told me he had a nice “pant” to go with the sports coat (also called “sportcoat”) I was buying. But it/they (the pant or pants) was/were more expensive than three pant/pants I could get at T.J. Maxx. So I passed.
A little research revealed that the word “pants” is derived from “pantaloons” — popular undergarments of the 1800s that were also called “breeches.” (Like, “You’re too big for your breeches.”)
Such items were typically made as two separate pieces and then joined in the middle. (Think cowboy chaps.)
As a result, certain items of clothing — though singular garments now — were identified as plural terms. Examples include a pair of tights, a pair of shorts and a pair of underpants.
Clothing manufacturers and marketers occasionally use the term “pant” now — although most of us think of gasp-like breathing when we see or hear that word.
So I have some level of resolution in that my own language preference has been verified by history. Therefore, I bought two pairs of pants yesterday.
Yet according to the label, the apparel company believes that I bought one pant and yet another. Lee Jeans has been around since the late 19th century when they started making dungarees. (One of those, I guess, should be called a “dungaree.”)
Even more confusing, Lee claims that in 1920 the company made the first “overall.” Yet I always called it a “pair of overalls.”
Such confusing use of language has worn out my inquiring mind. It just makes me pant.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.