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I’ve learned that pants, jeans, shoes, glass are always in plural form because they consist of 2 parts. For example, jeans and pants have 2 pant legs. So why are underpants and knickers always in plural form?

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Outer or otherwise, nether garments are plural. Breeches, pants, trousers, knickers, shorts, drawers, tights, even if they don't extend appreciably down the legs. They accommodate (for most people) two buttocks, if not two legs. Also, knickers often are two-legged.

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  • Quite true, although there is a bizarre habit I've noticed in fashion and retail clothing to refer to them in the singular. I have frequently heard both "a trouser", "a jean" and "a pant" used by retail staff and shows like "What Not to Wear". – fred2 Mar 30 '19 at 15:45
  • Took me a while to find an example, but Stephen Fry of course managed to notice the peculiar use (and make fun of it) in the hands of overly obsequious salespeople. – fred2 Mar 30 '19 at 15:54
  • When I started at Alleyn's School in 1963 at age 11, the uniform was a plain grey suit. The under 13s had to wear shorts instead of long trousers, and the outfit was called a "knicker suit" in the school's dress regulations. – Michael Harvey Mar 30 '19 at 16:00
  • I wonder if this stems from an ancient and lost time before sewing when pants would have been more like a pair of chaps - something connected manually at the top rather than pre-sewn for modern convenience. If at all true, a "pant" would be like a "chap" in that there's one for each leg. This might explain the modern tradition of plurality. – JBH Mar 30 '19 at 16:00
  • Bizarrely enough, men's hose certainly were not originally joined, giving rise (no pun intended) to the need for codpieces. But hose were always hose, not hoses, which just goes to show you just can't win. – fred2 Mar 30 '19 at 16:05
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Because they are all terms that derive from words that are plural for the same reason as trousers, pants, etc.1

Underpants go under your pants. Knickers get their name from the actually quite different garment knickerbockers. Shorts are short trousers/pants. Boxers are boxer shorts. Trunks were originally a sort of short breeches, with legs. And so on.

Also, most of these garments used to actually have legs, albeit not always full length. Underwear almost as brief as possible (and that's where we get briefs, which probably comes from brief underpants or something) is quite a modern thing.


1: The generally accepted reason for this is that two-legged garments weren't originally single garments, but pairs like stockings, that didn't join at the groin. I don't know how solid the evidence for that explanation is.

  • You really have to go back a pretty long way before you get two-piece pants. Ötzi wore them, but that was 5000 years ago. In Roman times, even the German tribes wore one-piece pants. Could the plurality of pants have lasted for thousands of years and who knows how many different languages? Possibly. – Peter Shor Mar 30 '19 at 22:15
  • @PeterShor: For a fair amount of history in Europe, the crotch-covering garment was separate from the leg-covering garments, which came in two pieces - one for each leg. One-piece garments that we would recognise as trousers existed before that, but were in various times and places only peasant or workman's garments. – SamBC Mar 30 '19 at 22:20

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