13 December 2008

It's pants!

"...not trousers, Mummy, that's soooo English!"

So I was scolded yesterday, by Child #2. Suddenly I was on the defensive, in a conversation that had started with me demanding to know exactly why he had come home from school still wearing the ripped trousers/pants I'd asked him to change in the morning.

Intellectually I know that trousers=pants, as petrol=gas, jubilee clips=hose clips and skirting board=base board. But there's a linguistic problem with using the word pants, as it still means 'underwear' to me and has an associated taboo around it.

Then of course there's its relatively recent emergence in British English as a mild swear word (e.g. "That film was absolute pants!"). The Oxford English Dictionary dates this usage to the early 1990s (it seems to be generally blamed on Radio 1 DJs). I think I first came across this use of the word when I started working in Manchester in 2001.

The first sentence of this post illustrates another fundamental linguistic issue for British English speakers in North America. I think of myself as a 'Mum', but everyone else is a 'Mom'. We actually managed to find a birthday card for Mike's mum with the word 'Mum' on it yesterday, but it was the only one in a shop full of Moms.

Perhaps as part of my re-education/re-programming, Child #2 bought me a Christmas present of a bracelet last year:

I don't think he noticed that the beads had been threaded wrongly, so that whichever way you look at it, it spells 'WOM'.


Anonymous said...

Poor you. Although it must be unsettling at first - going to school speaking as a Brit - I'm sure children adapt quickly. Parents have it much harder - all those new words to learn..... and then to be corrected by their own offspring. Pants indeed (lol).

Anonymous said...

Oh - Amanda - this did make me giggle.
Love it.

Amy said...

Ha, and jumpers=sweaters! At least you don't have to re-learn some spellings in Canada such as the word "colour". I often wonder if my American readers think I don't know how to spell :)

I much prefer "mum" over "mom", and when my children were born my mother requested to be called "Granny". Some folks might think of The Beverly Hillbillies when they hear it, but she thinks of the Queen Mother!

themanicgardener said...

Too funny. The underwear version here is "panties," always feminine. I can see the problem, though. I haven't yet figures out whether "absolutely pants" is praise or otherwise. Ah, the vagaries and varieties of English--

Amanda said...

If something is pants, it's bad - I was going to say that it is used as an alternative to the word 'rubbish', but then remembered that rubbish is a British English word too. Sigh...