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#1
Old 10-22-2011, 11:12 AM
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Why is underwear called "a pair" when it's just one item?

The other day, my husband asked me if he had a pair of underwear that was clean. I said, "Yes," and handed him 2 undergarments. He looked very puzzled and inquired, "Why did you give me 2?"

"You asked for a pair. That's 2. That's what I gave you."

We've now had a running argument for the past several days over whether or not underwear (aka: panties, undies, boxers, etc.) should be called "a pair." I say no, and he obviously says yes. I hope someone has the answer to this one, and how DID underwear come to be called "pair" when there is only one item?
#2
Old 10-22-2011, 11:22 AM
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Probably because it was made by joining 2 pieces in early years, similar to a pair of scissors.
But I haven't heard a 'pair of underwear' in usage.
#3
Old 10-22-2011, 11:26 AM
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There is a column about this question:

https://academicpursuits.us/columns/...ly-one-of-them

Basically because we call pants a pair of pants and that stuck with underwear.
#4
Old 10-22-2011, 11:28 AM
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Add "a pair of pants" to the argument and merriment will surely ensue. It's common usage is all. Insisting that it's wrong will just get you pitying looks from those to whom you are speaking.
#5
Old 10-22-2011, 12:41 PM
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Victoria's Secret definitely avoids the use of "pair" when describing their sales. I always thought that was kind of amusing.

"Buy 3, get 1 panty for free" and other odd-sounding phrases, very common in their fliers. I'm sure the general idea is avoid morons who don't understand that a "pair" of panties is only one garment!
#6
Old 10-22-2011, 12:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefguy View Post
Add "a pair of pants" to the argument and merriment will surely ensue. It's common usage is all. Insisting that it's wrong will just get you pitying looks from those to whom you are speaking.
Because you have a left pant leg and a right pant leg which gives you a pair of 'pants'.

That's how I always saw it.
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#7
Old 10-22-2011, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by postcards View Post
Because you have a left pant leg and a right pant leg which gives you a pair of 'pants'.

That's how I always saw it.
Has there ever been a time when it was fashionable to wear only one pant leg?
#8
Old 10-22-2011, 01:36 PM
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Yes, if you are Long John Silver.

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#9
Old 10-22-2011, 02:54 PM
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If you were an archer, you could have handed him three arrows, since "a pair of arrows" refers to three of them.
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#10
Old 10-22-2011, 03:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Brown Eyed Girl View Post
Has there ever been a time when it was fashionable to wear only one pant leg?
A tailor would refer to a single leg as a 'pant leg'.

And according to The Free Online Dictionary:
Quote:
Word History: One would not expect a word for a modern article of clothing to come ultimately from the name of a 4th-century Roman Catholic saint, but that is the case with the word pants. It can be traced back to Pantaleon, the patron saint of Venice. He became so closely associated with the inhabitants of that city that the Venetians were popularly known as Pantaloni. Consequently, among the commedia dell'arte's stock characters the representative Venetian (a stereotypically wealthy but miserly merchant) was called Pantalone, or Pantalon in French. In the mid-17th century the French came to identify him with one particular style of trousers, a style which became known as pantaloons in English. Pantaloons was later applied to another style that came into fashion in the late 18th century, tight-fitting garments that had begun to replace knee breeches. After that pantaloons was used to refer to trousers in general. The abbreviation of pantaloons to pants met with some resistance at first; it was considered vulgar and, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, "a word not made for gentlemen, but 'gents.'" First found in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe in 1840, pants has replaced the "gentleman's word" in English and has lost all obvious connection to Saint Pantaleon.
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#11
Old 10-22-2011, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by indian View Post
Probably because it was made by joining 2 pieces in early years, similar to a pair of scissors.
But I haven't heard a 'pair of underwear' in usage.
A pair of underwear is the only way I refer to it. Otherwise what? An underwear?
#12
Old 10-22-2011, 03:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Chefguy View Post
Add "a pair of pants" to the argument and merriment will surely ensue. It's common usage is all. Insisting that it's wrong will just get you pitying looks from those to whom you are speaking.
This. I'm wondering if the OP was seriously unaware of the standard usage, or was just being intentionally obtuse/dickish in that interaction.
#13
Old 10-22-2011, 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Rigamarole View Post
This. I'm wondering if the OP was seriously unaware of the standard usage, or was just being intentionally obtuse/dickish in that interaction.
Seriously. A "pair of underwear" as a reference to a single set of briefs is such common usage I'd think anyone handing me two sets of briefs when I asked for "a pair of underwear" was borderline retarded.
#14
Old 10-22-2011, 04:06 PM
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For many non-English speaking people around the world, the whole plural concept such as "a pair of" pants, scissors or even shoes let alone things like underwears is very peculiar thing. I may be wrong but in most of non-english languages it's just a pant (you don't count legs; it's just one connected, one piece of clothing). A scissor, not a pair of scissors and shoe, not a pair of shoes; the fact that shoes are normally a pair is a "goes without saying" fact. When one is asked about one particular shoe then you address it as one of the pair. How often people talk about one leg of a pair of pants? I too come to think it's waste of words if efficiency and speed is a part of the criteria.

I'm all for trimming and streamlining fat off English language. It will probably happen soon enough in our age of *texting while driving*. 'A pant' is so much shorter than 'a pair of pants'.

Last edited by brittekland; 10-22-2011 at 04:10 PM. Reason: 80-90%
#15
Old 10-22-2011, 05:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mamavalveeta03 View Post
We've now had a running argument for the past several days over whether or not underwear (aka: panties, undies, boxers, etc.) should be called "a pair." I say no, and he obviously says yes. I hope someone has the answer to this one, and how DID underwear come to be called "pair" when there is only one item?
The answer depends on whether you want to use the singular or plural form of whatever term you use for your underclothing. If you're going to talk about panties, or undies, or boxers, or underpants, then clearly your underwear is plural and you don't get to be all snarky about them coming in pairs. If, however, you talk about a panty, or an undy, or a boxer, or an underpant, then snark on him all you want.
#16
Old 10-24-2011, 03:59 PM
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Originally Posted by astro View Post
Seriously. A "pair of underwear" as a reference to a single set of briefs is such common usage I'd think anyone handing me two sets of briefs when I asked for "a pair of underwear" was borderline retarded.
Even if English was not his first language?
#17
Old 10-24-2011, 04:05 PM
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The "pair" rule doesn't apply to upper garments for some reason. I have two sleeves in my shirt, but I don't have a pair of shirts. Bra is singular, camisole is singular, blouse is singular.

But you have a pair of earrings.

This English - she is weird.
#18
Old 10-24-2011, 04:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by postcards View Post
Because you have a left pant leg and a right pant leg which gives you a pair of 'pants'.

That's how I always saw it.
But aha! Ads... say like in GQ magazine... where models are standing dockside ... modeling ... the caption might say, "Pant by Ralph Loraine."

How do you explain that non-plural use?

Last edited by Lukeinva; 10-24-2011 at 04:13 PM.
#19
Old 10-24-2011, 04:16 PM
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I've noticed that on What Not to Wear - they call it a pant, too. Maybe the fashion world is changing the language?
#20
Old 10-24-2011, 04:48 PM
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I am standing here in my underwear...

I am standing here in my pair of underwear...

You decide.
#21
Old 10-24-2011, 04:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mamavalveeta03 View Post
The other day, my husband asked me if he had a pair of underwear that was clean. I said, "Yes," and handed him 2 undergarments. He looked very puzzled and inquired, "Why did you give me 2?"

"You asked for a pair. That's 2. That's what I gave you."

We've now had a running argument for the past several days over whether or not underwear (aka: panties, undies, boxers, etc.) should be called "a pair." I say no, and he obviously says yes.
I say this marriage is doomed.

If you insist on altering classic usage, what happens to the phrase "Don't get your undies in a bunch"? Is it then "Don't get your undy in a bunch"? That's pathetic.
#22
Old 10-24-2011, 05:01 PM
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I require a pair of boxers for my pair of testicles.
#23
Old 10-24-2011, 05:50 PM
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Originally Posted by ThisSpaceForRent View Post
I am standing here in my underwear...

I am standing here in my pair of underwear...

You decide.
How many underwears are you wearing?

One underwear? Just an underwear isn't enough! You need a pair of underwear.
#24
Old 10-24-2011, 06:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ThisSpaceForRent View Post
I am standing here in my underwear...

I am standing here in my pair of underwear...

You decide.
But if someone asked for a pair of underwear, I would immediately assume one article of clothing.

How many underwear do I have?
How many pairs of underwear do I have?

I know which sounds right to my ear.
#25
Old 10-25-2011, 12:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Dolores Reborn View Post
The "pair" rule doesn't apply to upper garments for some reason. I have two sleeves in my shirt, but I don't have a pair of shirts. Bra is singular, camisole is singular, blouse is singular.
Interesting observation.

Quote:
But you have a pair of earrings.

This English - she is weird.
Weird how? The earrings, unlike your previous examples, are TWO (count 'em, two!) SEPARATE items. On what planet would it be weird to call them a pair?
#26
Old 10-25-2011, 01:20 AM
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
I require a pair of boxers for my pair of testicles.
....and your pair of cheeks.
#27
Old 10-25-2011, 01:33 AM
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Originally Posted by gazpacho View Post
There is a column about this question:

https://academicpursuits.us/columns/...ly-one-of-them

Basically because we call pants a pair of pants and that stuck with underwear.
Thanks for posting this. Interesting read. English is my second language and I love to learn about the origins of words....whether they are rational or not, it's most often entertaining.

Last edited by scootergirl; 10-25-2011 at 01:34 AM.
#28
Old 10-25-2011, 02:57 AM
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Originally Posted by IvoryTowerDenizen View Post
A pair of underwear is the only way I refer to it. Otherwise what? An underwear?
I can't speak for indian, but for me the odd word in the sentence isn't "pair", but "underwear".

"Pair of pants" would be fine, or "underpants", "panties", "shorts", "briefs" – anything of that sort.

"Underwear" is, for me, too broad and non-specific a category to go with the word "pair", since it encompasses undershirts, bras, slips, petticoats, garter belts etc, none of which are generally thought of as a pair.

If I were in the position of Mamavalveeta03's husband, I would have asked if I had "a clean pair of (under)pants" or "any clean underwear" (or "some clean underwear").
#29
Old 10-25-2011, 04:09 AM
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Originally Posted by brittekland View Post
For many non-English speaking people around the world, the whole plural concept such as "a pair of" pants, scissors or even shoes let alone things like underwears is very peculiar thing. I may be wrong but in most of non-english languages it's just a pant (you don't count legs; it's just one connected, one piece of clothing).
In Spanish it can be single, or a pair, or plural. Este pantalón refers to these trousers, este par de pantalones refers to the same trousers, estos pantalones can refer to those same trousers again or to several pairs. You usually can figure out which either from context or because there is more information provided. Pantyhose is paired or plural, panties can be singular or plural but not paired, bras are singular, men's shorts-briefs-etc are plural or paired.

Same in Catalan, not surprisingly (the majority of Catalan speakers are bilingual with Spanish; not only is there a common origin but a lot of cross-pollination between the two languages).
#30
Old 10-25-2011, 07:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
Interesting observation.


Weird how? The earrings, unlike your previous examples, are TWO (count 'em, two!) SEPARATE items. On what planet would it be weird to call them a pair?
Not weird that earrings are counted as a pair, weird that some things are pairs and some things aren't.
#31
Old 10-25-2011, 08:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Lukeinva View Post
But aha! Ads... say like in GQ magazine... where models are standing dockside ... modeling ... the caption might say, "Pant by Ralph Loraine."

How do you explain that non-plural use?
Pretentiousness. Or one-legged models.

And who the heck is 'Ralph Loraine'? You mean that Lifshitz guy from the Bronx?
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#32
Old 10-25-2011, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by postcards View Post
Pretentiousness. Or one-legged models.
Bah! It's cleaner, more consistent usage minimizing qualifiers that don't actually say anything about the product. Seeing as how one-legged pants aren't marketed, it's superfluous to refer to a pant as a pair. You should expect a two-legged pant.

And what about underpants? No pair present.

Do you refer to your legs as a pair? No. They come in pairs. No need to point that out in language.

Last edited by Brown Eyed Girl; 10-25-2011 at 11:19 AM.
#33
Old 10-25-2011, 03:30 PM
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OP: Have you never heard it called a pair of underwear or a pair of pants? Really? I assumed that was the most common usage.

To me, it sounds like you're nitpicking. If you've really never heard that usage before, you're the first person I've ever encountered who (presumably) has English as a first language and has never heard the term "pair of underwear."

Oh, and on preview: your husband is right. One item is a pair of underwear. No, it doesn't necessarily make sense, but neither do a lot of things in the English language.
#34
Old 10-25-2011, 04:28 PM
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Originally Posted by IvoryTowerDenizen View Post
How many underwear do I have?
How many pairs of underwear do I have?

I know which sounds right to my ear.
Well, the first option would be rephrased as "How much underwear do I have?" I could see myself asking that question.
#35
Old 10-25-2011, 09:15 PM
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
I require a pair of boxers for my pair of testicles.
Quote:
Originally Posted by scootergirl View Post
....and your pair of cheeks.
In this case, why has no one in this thread commented on the oddity that brassiere is singular...
#36
Old 10-25-2011, 09:43 PM
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Originally Posted by jasg View Post
In this case, why has no one in this thread commented on the oddity that brassiere is singular...
Posts #17, #28, and #29.
#37
Old 10-26-2011, 05:46 PM
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This is usage retained from several centuries past when men's nether garments did come in pairs. The Robin Hood-style "men in tights" were wearing what were essentially a pair of hip-length stockings laced to the bottom of their shirts or to a belt. People kept on referring to them as a "pair" even after the separate legs were merged into a single garment.
#38
Old 02-09-2016, 03:19 AM
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Pair of Shoes / Pants

An easy way to sort out this issue is to grab his pair of balls, place them inside his pair of pants, check your pair of ti* and then say sorry for your misunderstanding
#39
Old 02-09-2016, 03:30 AM
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nm

Last edited by Nava; 02-09-2016 at 03:30 AM.
#40
Old 02-09-2016, 09:56 AM
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Arise, Oh Zombie Gitch!
#41
Old 02-09-2016, 10:54 AM
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Didn't the L.L. Bean catalog use the singular in the past, i.e., "This a versatile and durable pant?"
#42
Old 02-09-2016, 11:46 AM
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"Pair of underwear" sounds wrong.
"Pair of underpants" sounds right.
*Shrugs*
YMMV
#43
Old 02-09-2016, 10:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Sternvogel View Post
Well, the first option would be rephrased as "How much underwear do I have?" I could see myself asking that question.
Pedantically that's wrong. "Many" is used for things that are counted. "Much" is used for things that are not counted, but would be measured. How much dirt is in that pile? How many pailfuls of dirt are there?
#44
Old 02-10-2016, 02:31 AM
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Originally Posted by OldGuy View Post
Pedantically that's wrong. "Many" is used for things that are counted. "Much" is used for things that are not counted, but would be measured. How much dirt is in that pile? How many pailfuls of dirt are there?
"How much underwear is in that pile? How many items of underwear are there?" You wouldn't say "How many underwears do I have?", would you?

Surely "underwear" is, grammatically, a mass noun, like "clothing" or "food": the individual items may be counted, but the group of things that fit into the category named is treated (grammatically) as a mass.
#45
Old 02-10-2016, 02:35 AM
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This thread reminds me of a woman who always referred to a pair of bras. What a strange woman she was.
#46
Old 02-10-2016, 03:43 AM
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Hebrew has a special plural form for two of anything, which I take to mean it's the equivalent of the English "a pair of _______". It's used for a lot more things than the English "a pair of ..." is. For example, in English we don't say "a pair of feet" or "a pair of hands", but I think in Hebrew they would use the dual plural for all kinds of things like that.

They even use the dual plural for "tomorrow" to mean "the day after tomorrow". (Literally, I suppose, "a pair of tomorrows".) But strangely, they don't use the dual plural for "yesterday" to mean "the day before yesterday".
#47
Old 02-10-2016, 02:31 PM
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Not sure if it is relevant but "pants" were once two garments.
I medieval times you wore short pants (braes) that looked like boxers. Over that you wore two garments that consisted of, essentially, half a pair of pants. You put on one leg and tie it around your waste and then put on the other leg and do the same.
So, while they weren't called pants then, there was a time when you actually wore a pair of pants.
#48
Old 08-27-2017, 08:11 PM
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Incredible. You guys get that a "pair" is "two", right?

https://i.imgur.com/LRmK15u.png

Like, do I really have to explain this to you guys?
#49
Old 08-27-2017, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Comestible View Post
Incredible. You guys get that a "pair" is "two", right?

https://i.imgur.com/LRmK15u.png

Like, do I really have to explain this to you guys?
You sign up to dig up a zombie corpse just to link to a picture of a dictionary definition of a word that was not in contention?
#50
Old 08-27-2017, 08:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mamavalveeta03 View Post
The other day, my husband asked me if he had a pair of underwear that was clean...
Bold and other stuff mine

If you thought he meant two he would have said
Quote:
The other day, my husband asked me if he had a pair of underwear that were clean.
Though that should really be
Quote:
The other day, my husband asked me if he had two pairs of underwear that were clean.

Last edited by kanicbird; 08-27-2017 at 08:20 PM.
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