17 October 2018

Word for the day: pants

Last night I was listening to an episode of the Great British Baking Show (excellent entertainment, BTW).  One of the contestants said that he had done well in the morning signature bake but had been "pants in the afternoon."  The meaning was evident, but I had to look up the background.

World Wide Words had the answer:
It has been an all-purpose term of disapproval among young people in the UK during the middle to late nineties. It first turned up in print in 1994, in pieces that indicate it was popularised by DJs on the BBC’s radio pop channel, Radio 1... But there’s evidence that the word in this sense is somewhat older, and that it comes from student slang.

Pants in British usage are not trousers, of course, but underpants, principally male. These intimate nether garments have long been a source of innocent merriment among pubescent youth, and this was just another example, in the tradition of the earlier exclamation knickers!, indicating contempt or exasperation. It appears in phrases like “it’s a pile of pants!” (Simon Mayo’s catchphrase) and “it’s pants!” or “it’s absolute pants”, meaning that it’s a total load of rubbish. Later, we began to hear it from older people as in “My tomato crop was pants last year”. In phrases like “say pants to ...” it’s an injunction to wave goodbye to something considered outmoded, unwanted or unnecessary.
You learn something every day.


  1. Also a huge fan of The Great British Baking Show, though I do miss Mary Berry, Mel and Sue. It's just not the same since they left. Still good, of course, just not quite as good.

    1. https://ew.com/tv/2018/09/03/great-british-baking-show-old-new-hosts/

  2. MST3K did a tribute to pants, US style.


  3. In early to mid-20th century Dutch, pet (= cap/hat) was used in a similar way: Het weer is pet vandaag = The weather today is pants.

  4. Checks out, my hipster UK friends would use the phrase "it's pants" or just "pants" in the mid 90s to express disapproval.


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