I feel the need to talk about pants.
When speaking of pants, one might talk about the color, the material or the zipper. One might even fall into a discussion about when it’s vital to wear pants, or when it’s not okay to play with the zipper.
Of course, it’s always important to identify the type of pants being discussed, whether long pants, short pants, underpants, panties or invisible pants (aka pantaloons.)
But a competent pants speaker (i.e., moi) must also understand the genus and species of the trousers in question — just as a person speaking about dogs would note that they come from the Canidae family (who live somewhere near Toronto, next door to a Tim Mackenzie’s Plaid Pizza.)
BTW: If you’re up on your Latin (like moi) dogs are more formally known as canis lupus familiaris, loosely translated as the slobbering hound upstairs, snoring away in the master’s bed.
Pants, on the other leg — if you will* — come from the Latin braccae. The word means broccoli and for years that’s what pants were made from.
That began to fade when braccae were routinely tossed into the boiling wash tub with the togas, sweat socks and spandex. One day, one of the Caesar’s** was playing with his zipper and somehow fell into such a tub. He surfaced with a mouthful of laundry and said “These pants taste much better boiled than raw. Could use some Hollandaise sauce, though.”
That helps explain two of today’s colloquialisms for pants. The first, from the Latin Braccas meas vescimini! graciously invites a listener to partake of the broccoli. Loosely translated: “Consume my drawers.” It didn’t catch on until the late 20th century when the noted linguist, Bartholomew Simpson, began inviting people to “Eat my shorts.”
The idea that trousers — as opposed to shirts, togas or one-size-fits-all loin cloths — might taste good gave us bonum trahit. Today we eschew*** the Latin and call them simply “good pants.”
The term is not a compliment, as in the oft-heard “Good pants, Dude” or “Dude, good pants.” Rather it distinguishes “good pants” (endorsed by the Spanish Inquisition) from “pants that aren’t necessarily bad, just not uncomfortable enough for wakes, weddings, funerals, indictments, medal-of-honor ceremonies, political denials, or any other event so fancy you can’t fart, chew gum, or say what the poop.”
Good pants come in dark grays, browns, blacks, blues, and asphaltums and are made of flannel, wool, coffee grounds, sand paper and cactus. The number of deaths and hospitalizations attributed to the scratching despair and embarrassment of wearing good pants is unknown. (But I’d say it’s “a lot.”)
One way of distinguishing “Good pants” from “Non-good pants” is to count the sports or other fun activities one can participate in while wearing them. That number, confirmed in a 1955 study of Catholic school boys in Syracuse, N.Y., is zero. (Note: This was the age of the Great Rhetorical Question: “Do you know how hard your father had to work so we could afford those dark, itchy, girly pants?”)
The Non-good pants lobby, representing jeans, chinos, khakis, cargo pants, etc., officially describes their products now as “play pants,” which has no Latin equivalent because fun wasn’t invented until the Renaissance. (Oddly enough, the phrase usquequaque gero sub vestis in vestri caput capitis**** has been found scrawled on interior pyramid walls, marking the first recorded evidence of not only graffiti but the wise ass.)
Today, good pants are still worn, but usually by men badly scarred by the waggly, index-fingered warnings of their mothers: “Don’t bother coming home if you ruin your good pants!” Casual Fridays were invented so these victims could see that it’s okay to wear pants and relax at the same time. So if you see any of these troubled folk wearing khakis, show some class and try not to scare the pants off them.
*If you won’t, bite me
***The temptation to say “not to be confused with pants chewing” is unbearably strong
****Translation: Always carry underwear on your head.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2014, all rights reserved.