One of many issues that makes the English language so fascinating is that there are phrases drawn from any number of different languages, present and historic alike.
One of many issues that makes the English language so irritating is… effectively, the identical factor.
One other double-edged sword is that language modifications over time.
Don’t let individuals let you know “appropriate” grammar hasn’t modified since 1825, as a result of in precise reality dictionaries and grammars are outlined by how individuals use the language–not the opposite method round.
Not to point out the truth that English has many dialects, chief amongst them British English and American English.
These two forms of English can have very completely different meanings, even for a similar phrase.
All that leads us by a wildly unraveling thread to the subject of at this time’s article.
And that matter is… pants! Wait, no, I mean the subject is trousers. Or is it slacks?
Really, we’re going to check out all three of those near-synonyms and determine what, if something, is the distinction between slacks, pants and trousers.
A short word on terminology
Earlier than we actually look at the delicate variations in these three phrases, we’d like to briefly outline the kind of clothes we’re speaking about.
In any other case, issues are going to get complicated.
Except in any other case famous, then, each time this text makes use of the phrase “pants” it refers to what the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a two-legged outer garment … extending from the waist normally to the ankles.”
With that out of the way in which, let’s check out our three phrases and discover the various methods they can be utilized.
Pants: the lengthy and the in need of it
As described above, in American English “pants” refers to the kind of clothes that has two legs, protecting you out of your waist to your ankles.
When used on this method, pants can refer to any sort of pants. Denims are pants, so are chinos and khakis and swimsuit pants.
In reality, even slacks are pants. (In order for you to get technical, trousers are additionally pants, however we’ll get to that later.)
In British English, nevertheless, the phrase “pants” carries a really completely different meaning.
When you ask an English pal in the event that they like your pants, you’re probably to get a really unusual look as a response.
That’s as a result of in British English the phrase “pants” refers to underpants quite than the kind of outwear this phrase refers to in American English.
“The pants that go together with my new swimsuit have already got a gap in them.”
“I purchased a very comfy pair of khaki pants yesterday.”
In these examples, we’re clearly in an American setting.
Fits don’t sometimes include matching undergarments and khaki could be a really uncommon (and most likely uncomfortable) materials for underwear as effectively.
“I laughed so laborious I almost peed in my pants.”
Though this might be American English as effectively, it really works equally effectively in British English.
“My mum all the time made me pack 5 modifications of pants regardless of how brief a visit we have been taking, which was very embarrassing when airport safety dumped my suitcase out in entrance of everybody.”
Right here, there’s nothing embarrassing about American-style pants, so the speaker might be referring to undergarments.
The origin of pants
Irrespective of its meaning, the phrase “pants” has an attention-grabbing historical past. Technically, that is referred to as its “etymology,” or phrase origin.
“Pants” got here to English from French and Italian within the late 1500s by way of the phrases “pantalon” (French) and “pantalone” (Italian).
The French phrase truly refers to a inventory character named Pantaloon, primarily a clown-like buffoon who wore a pair of tight pants as a part of his costume.
In Italian, the phrase “pantalone” additionally refers to a inventory character named Pantaloon, though on this case the character was not as clown-like.
Trousers VS pants
Now that we’ve outlined pants, how are trousers completely different?
In most, if not all, circumstances, the phrase “trousers” is definitely fully an identical to the phrase “pants” aside from being British English as a substitute of American English.
Some individuals will use the phrase “trousers” in American English to refer to pants, however that is sometimes solely finished if they’re attempting to seem mental or professorial or in a really formal outfit.
Moreover, some type guides will outline trousers as a selected sort of pants, or use the way in which the piece of clothes is reduce to distinguish between the 2.
Whereas each trousers and pants match the definition used for “pants” above, the argument right here is that trousers are literally created by stitching collectively one piece of cloth for every leg.
Pants, then again, is a extra common time period and could also be created from a single piece of fabric.
Once more, although, this use of “trousers” are non-standard. Except you’re learning to change into a tailor or vogue knowledgeable, all you really want to keep in mind is that American = pants and British = trousers.
“After I went to England, I had to keep in mind to ask for trousers as a substitute of pants within the clothes retailer.”
“The trousers my cousin wore to London for his job interview have been very posh.”
In each these contexts, we’re fairly clearly utilizing British English.
Notice that when utilizing trousers, identical to with pants, you want to deal with the noun as a plural. Meaning have been and are, in contrast to was and is.
The etymology of trousers
The origin of trousers is just a little unclear, but it surely’s equally as fascinating as that of pants.
Though “trousers” is a little more trendy, it has its origin in a phrase “trouse” that has been in existence since roughly the 1500s. Not like “pants,” this phrase comes to English from Irish and Gaelic.
In these Celtic languages, the phrase “triubhas” referred to a selected sort of garment which was tight-fitting and lined each legs to the ankles.
“Trouse” can be why some individuals refer to “trousers” as pants which have a separate piece of cloth for every leg.
The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the “trouse” was “divided under [the buttocks] to kind a separate protecting for every thigh.”
Though “trouse” is now an obscure historic time period, “trousers” lives in, and has been the extra widespread use in English because the early 1600s.
Slacks: loosely talking, they’re pants
Our third phrase is each much less and extra difficult than the distinction between pants and trousers.
The phrase “slacks” refers to a selected sort of pants (or, within the UK, a selected sort of trousers).
What sort is a matter of some debate.
Some type guides counsel that slacks are solely formal pants, whereas others say that slacks are fully completely different from the kind of pants that include a swimsuit or different formal put on.
Going again to the Oxford English Dictionary to resolve the controversy, we study that slacks are “loosely-cut trousers for casual put on.”
This is sensible if you consider it, as a result of “slack” is one other phrase for “free,” and you wouldn’t need free pants in a proper setting.
Whereas the dictionary claims slacks are principally for ladies, this explicit distinction has largely disappeared and at this time you can find slacks within the males’s part of clothes shops as effectively.
That mentioned, as a result of there may be a lot confusion over what “slacks” means, your best guess is to verify the meant meaning in the event you’re in a scenario the place sporting the flawed sort of pants would possibly get you in bother.
If, as an illustration, you have got RSVP’d to a celebration that claims to put on “a white tie and slacks,” you need to test to make positive you’re sporting acceptable clothes.
Apparently, in some older books and newspapers, you would possibly see “slacks” utilized in one other method.
That’s as a result of this phrase used to refer to the seat of your pants, presumably as a result of sitting down a number of instances stresses the material right here and can make it free or slack.
That is an archaic phrase, nevertheless, and “slacks” has not been used to refer to this because the late 1800s.
Typically, or in the event you’re simply attempting to resolve an argument over the meaning of “slacks,” you’ll be able to level to the definition of “slacks” as loose-fitting, typically casual trousers (or pants).
The etymology of slacks
Slacks, curiously, have the oldest historical past of all these pants-related phrases.
That’s not as a result of slacks, which have solely been round because the 1800s, have an extended historical past, however quite as a result of they arrive from the adjective or adverb “slack,” meaning free.
This phrase comes to English from Germanic, the very early proto-language from which Previous English, Dutch, German, Norse, and a wide range of different languages.
Students suppose that this phrase got here into Germanic from the Latin phrase “laxus,” additionally meaning free.
In different phrases, “slacks” is arguably probably the most English phrase of all three choices.
At the very least, it’s the one which has existed longest, with use of slack as an adjective courting all the way in which again to the late 800s.
Bonus pants, verb model
One attention-grabbing factor in regards to the phrase “pants” is that in each American and British English you should utilize it as a verb in addition to a noun.
When you see somebody say to “pants” somebody, it means to pull down their pants (or trousers).
Whereas this isn’t a really well mannered factor to do, it’s a good instance of how language can change over time, with a phrase that originally referred to a bit of clothes altering to mean an motion relating to it.
Bonus pants, British model
The phrase “pants” additionally has an extra uncommon utilization in British English. Right here, the phrase stands in as slang for foolish, ineffective or a waste of time.
For instance, in the event you see a movie that’s so unhealthy it’s not even humorous, you would possibly flip to your British pal and say, “This movie is absolute pants.”
As a pleasant bonus, the phrase “pants” doesn’t carry the ableist connotation that many different comparable phrases (dumb, lame, loopy) do.
It looks as if pants are a very odd factor to use to speak down about one thing, however keep in mind that in British English the phrase refers to underwear.
In accordance to language knowledgeable Michael Quinion, it’s the underwear connection that offers this meaning of “pants” its origin.
An older technology used the phrase “knickers” (one other phrase for underpants) as a light swear phrase, which morphed to pants within the Nineteen Nineties.
It’s worth noting this slang is from the Nineteen Nineties, so children at this time most likely don’t use it. Certainly, in the event you describe one thing as “pants” on this method, individuals will most likely suppose you’re attempting to be posh or that you simply’re very outdated.
Though that’s but one other instance of adjusting language, it’s additionally full pants, actually, as a result of that is an amusing flip of phrase that deserves a extra everlasting place in the way in which we communicate.
So, what’s the distinction between slacks, pants and trousers?
The brief reply is “not a lot.” All of those are nouns that can be utilized for garments that you simply put on on the underside half of your physique and which covers every leg individually.
One key distinction is that you need to positively not use “pants” in British English except you might be speaking about underwear or underpants.
Within the UK and elsewhere, “pants” refers to underwear and not the longer model of shorts.
Within the US, then again, “pants” refers to the a part of your outfit that covers you out of your ankles up to your backside.
“Trousers” is what you need in British English to refer to that individual piece of clothes.
This phrase can be utilized in American English, though it carries a considerably quaint, professorial tone and some individuals would possibly use it explicitly to refer to formal put on.
As for slacks, this phrase refers to a selected sort of pants/trousers which are loosely-cut (therefore “slack”).
Slacks are sometimes worn with enterprise informal or in different semi-formal settings, and shouldn’t be confused with swimsuit pants or formal put on.
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