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

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Thu Nov 5 10:36:26 UTC 2009

Larry said:

>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).

Yes, indeed, men can get their knickers in a twist. For me, now, that idiom
is semantically bleached, so it doesn't occur to me if I ever hear it that
_knickers_ is actually a female-associated term (though of course I can't
speak directly for other speakers of BrE). Rather, to me, anyone who's
accused of getting their knickers in a twist is being accused of being
childish about something and making more of a fuss than it deserves. It
seems therefore equally insulting to men and to women by now (which is to
say, really more patronising than insulting).

>"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')

Yes; I should have put brackets around the _under_ morpheme. And, yes, that
does lead to some very (um-)robust confusions in dialect clashes. Since I
am married to an American and share my office with a different (but still
female) one, I have learned to avoid them for the most part, but people who
are less experienced have not been so fortunate in my direct experience ...

Thus Ben:

>To quote Samuel Butler:
>"Thou callest trousers 'pants', whereas I call them 'trousers',
>Therefore thou art in hell-fire and may the Lord pity thee!"

Couldn't have put it better myself ...


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
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