Where Does the Word “Pants” Come From?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 20 2012 3:55 PM

Did You See This? An Animated History of Pants

pants1
A still from "Mysteries of Vernacular: Pants"

As previously noted on Brow Beat, high-ranking Roman cavalry soldiers are to thank (or blame) for the bifurcated, insulating bottom layer we call pants. In order to comfortably accommodate their riding (and chafing) lifestyle, officers ejected the traditional tunic for the trouser. After medieval knights continued to wear the pant as an early form of equestrian sportswear, the pant trickled down from the mounted aristocracy to the common man.

But where did our name for this ubiquitous garment come from? The lexical investigators at Mysteries of Vernacular—a work-in-progress virtual library from Myriapod Productions devoted to decoding the derivations of common words—answer that question in the delightfully animated two-minute clip below, which flips through a stop-motion animated vernacular book as a charming British voice narrates the word’s history. (Aside: The word pants has a different meaning in the U.K. than in the U.S., but the video seems to have the American meaning in mind? It is not entirely clear.)

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Spoiler alert: It turns out the Italians are again responsible, though it’s Venetian comedians rather than Roman soldiers this time.

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