global English

Keep yer pants on!

© Serj Sizkov - Fotolia.comI wear pants and my daughter wears trousers.

Ha! You see now, depending on where your familiarity lies you will have either me in my underwear or my daughter in a tweed three-piece suit with a monocle in her eye … sort of.

Pants in BE (British English) = underwear.
Pants in AE (American English) = well, trousers.
Is that right? That’s how I understand it.

This confusion may seem like nothing to you or me in the bright light of day. But it’s hell first thing in the morning.

Heated dialogue between me and my four-year-old daughter:

“Put your pants on.”
“I did!!! I did, stop keep telling me!”
“What do you mean you did? You are half-naked! Put them on NOW, we are going to be late.”
“I did I did I did.” (She is only four.)
“No, these!”
“These are not pants, they are TROUSERS.”
“Well, put them on.”
“You said pants.”
“You know what I meant.”
“You said pants … silly.”

To me ‘trousers’ sounds, well, quaint … but wrong. I am South African and we call trousers pants … or slacks (yup). I am not sure why this should be, as we seem to have gone the way of British English in most other cases.

There’s a pretty thorough article on ‘trousers’ here. Isn’t Wikipedia fantastic?

If you think this post is pants, well, I guess you can comment below.

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Laine Redpath Cole


  • I’m a Canadian living in the UK. On my first day as a primary school teacher here, I sat on a Pritt Stick and exclaimed ‘oh no, I’ve got glue on my pants!’ Much to the delight of the 8 year olds around me.

  • Ah, literal-minded 4 year old daughters. We used to have similar exchanges with ours (this is about 20 years ago):
    “Put your shoes on”
    “They’re not shoes – they’re sandals”
    This is a deliberate delaying tactic. It eventually got even sillier.
    “Stick your coat on”
    “I haven’t got any glue”.
    Obviously a chip off the old block.

  • Ah, the old shoes/sandals trick – I know it well.
    I realise now that I have not been honest in my transcription – the truth is I speak more like this in the morning:
    “Wayameyoudid? Pu themon now wegonna belay.”
    It’s a wonder the two of us make it out the house.

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