[Ads-l] Word: pantser, seat-of-the-pants, seat-of-the-pantser

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 29 10:04:39 UTC 2022

The lecturer in a YouTube video I watched recently discussed different
strategies for writing novels. A "plotter" creates a detailed outline
specifying the characters and story arcs. A "pantser" uses a
seat-of-the-pants methodology. The characters, events, and plot are
discovered via the writing process.

The word "pantser" is listed in neither the Oxford English Dictionary
nor Green's Dictionary of Slang. The OED does have this entry:

[Begin excerpt]
seat-of-the-pants, adj.
Of a person: tending to act instinctively, spontaneously, or
expediently. Of an activity: done on the basis of practical experience
rather than technical knowledge; informal; inexact.
[End excerpt]

The OED's first citation for "seat-of-the-pants" is dated 1935. Here
is a 1932 antedating.

Date: July 3, 1932
Newspaper: The Atlanta Constitution
Newspaper Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Article: Teaching the Pilot To Fly Blind
Author: Hugh Sexton
Section: Sunday Magazine
Quote Page 4, Column 1
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
They all learned to fly, however, by the "seat of the pants" method,
as they describe flying by instinct, and are starting all over again
to learn the new instrument flying.
[End excerpt]

The phrase "seat-of-the-pantser" was in circulation by 1959 although
the first spelling I encountered used a "z" instead of an "s". The
domain was amateur driving at a sports car event:

Date: October 28, 1959
Newspaper: Oakland Tribune
Newspaper Location:
Article: Sports Car Events
Quote Page 58D, Column 1 and 2
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Rally: 1: Buccaneer's Rally. For seniors, novices, Seat-of-the-Pantzers.
[End excerpt]

The first instance of "pantser" I located appeared in a 1994 book by
entrepreneur Jim Schell. Schell created the word via truncation
(although earlier instances may exist). He used the word in the
business domain:

[ref] 1994 (1993 Copyright), The Brass-Tacks Entrepreneur by Jim
Schell, Chapter 1: Not Every Small Businessman Is an Entrepreneur,
Quote Page 5 and 6, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Verified with
scans) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt from page 5]
My favorite? Seat-of-the-pantser. The Gospel of Basic Business
Strategies According to Matulef: no policy manuals, no precedents, no
logical order. As in, straight from the seat of the pants. OK,
seat-of-the-pantser is too long, with too many syllables. We'll
shorten it to pantser.
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt from page 6]
The pantser is an unsophisticated, entry-level small business owner
and is not to be confused with the more sophisticated entrepreneur.
The pantser's primary business motivations are survival and
sustenance, the entrepreneur's creativity and growth.
[End excerpt]

Garson O'Toole

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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