Knickers (was: They're as self-centered as we are!)

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 5 02:03:49 UTC 2009

FWIW, an outer garment based upon knickerbockers - very similar to
them, but not quite the same - called "knickers," was the standard
form of below-the-waist outerwear for pre-adolescent boys in Saint
Louis the year around. "Big" boys wore "(long) pants," made of cotton,
during the week and long, woolen "trousers" to Mass on Sunday.
"Little" boys wore "short pants." Girls and women wore dresses and
skirts (depending upon one's point of view) these dresses and skirts,
of a style called the "New Look," were surprisingly long or the
micro-minis of today are astonishingly short) and very short short
pants called "(short-)shorts."

OT anecdote. Once, back in 1961, in a GI-bar / Ami-Bar in Germany, I
saw a beer delivery man literally fall off a barstool onto the floor
as he was trying to sneak-peek about two inches of the underside of a
B-girl's thigh. The skirt that she was wearing, reaching just below
the knee, was *quite* short, for those days. Had the poor guy known
the future, he could have saved himself a lot of embarrassment.


On Wed, Nov 4, 2009 at 9:05 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Knickers (was: They're as self-centered as we are!)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 2:47 PM +0000 11/4/09, Damien Hall wrote:
>>Thus Larry:
>>>I figure this spelling [...] may well be processed as a back-formation
>>>from "knickers" (the standard locution for what we call 'underpants' and
>>>'panties' on this side of the pond)
>>Just a note on a branching topic: _knickers_ is the standard BrE locution
>>only for (women's) 'panties', not for (men's) 'underpants'.
> Good point.  The "his knickers" hits (175K) mostly involve getting
> his knickers in a twist or a knot, with (presumably) metaphoric
> transfer of the kind attested in the NYT book review and letters
> (with the additional insult typically invoked by reference to males
> with female-appropriate terms).  There are in the umliterature and
> some of the other google hits for "his knickers" a number of literal
> "knickers" = 'underpants' (for which I'm led to believe the standard
> British locution is "pants", which no doubt leads to some robust
> dialect clashes with U.S. "pants" = 'trousers'), but the number
> shrinks in comparison to those for "her knickers" = 'her panties'.
> Some, but not many, hits on "his knickers" refer to the outermore
> garment, a.k.a. knickerbockers.
> LH
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