The Grammarphobia Blog

A word for gents?

Q: Is the phrase “crease in the pant’s leg” correct or should it be “crease in the pants’ leg”? Thanks a bunch.

A: No apostrophe is needed. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says the word “pant” can be an adjective meaning “of or relating to pants,” and it uses the example “pant leg.” So I would suggest “crease in the pant leg.”

The noun “pant,” meaning a pair of trousers or a trouser leg, dates from the early 19th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The first citation is in an 1832 letter to Thackeray from his mother about putting padding inside a pair of trousers.

The OED doesn’t have any citations for “pant” as an adjective, but it does have lots of references for the noun in compound words (“pant-look,” “pantcoat,” “pantdress,” “pantskirt,” and “pantsuit”), all dating from the 1960s or ‘70s. H-m-m, I wonder if the appearance of all those “pant” words had something to do with the rise of feminism at the time.

Interestingly, we can thank Pantaleone, the patron saint of Venice, for the words “pant” and “pants,” according to a word-history note in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).

The 4th-century saint was so identified with the city that Venetians became known as pantaloni and a stock character in commedia dell’arte was a rich miser known as Pantalone. In the 17th century, the French linked the character with a style of trousers that came to be known as pantaloons in English.

The word “pantaloons” was eventually shorted to “pants” in the US. The new usage first appeared in 1840 in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, according to American Heritage.

But like most changes in our changeable language, the evolution of “pantaloons” to “pants” did not occur without opposition. Oliver Wendell Homes, for one, described the upstart as “a word not made for gentlemen, but for ‘gents.’“

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