Pants (UK), pants (US), pants (mathematical) and a pile of pants

Another potential for embarrassment between US and UK English

In the US pants are worn outside your underwear:


In many parts in the UK pants ARE your underwear:


So, it may be inadvisable to say ‘ooh nice pants’ in the UK at a business meeting.

Also ‘pants’ or ‘a pile of pants’ is an idiom meaning really bad, as in ‘that movie was pants’

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 10.28.55 AM

pile of pants, noun, slang, official term of rejection. Relatively new non-swearing slang term, meaning a load of rubbish or, indeed, knickers. Pants in this sense (NB not trousers as in the US; in the UK pants means underwear) only became slang in the 1990s (according to slang lexicographer Jonathon Green).

In mathematics:

In mathematics, a pair of pants is a simple two-dimensional surface resembling a pair of pants: topologically, it is a sphere with three holes in it.


Interestingly, the loan-word ‘pantsu’ (パンツ) in Japanese suffers from the same conflicted identity – it can mean either underpants or trousers (though perhaps the former is more common).

Underwear pants for men can be called:

  • underwear
  • underpants
  • undies
  • jockey shorts
  • drawers
  • underdrawers
  • under-dacks
  • boxers
  • dacks
  • jocks
  • skivvies
  • tighty whities
  • undercrackers
  • skants

And for women:

  • broeks (South African English)
  • knickers
  • panties
  • pants

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. Also to add to the above list… Boxers…. for boxer shorts.

    And from my part of the world, the word “kecks” or “kex” is frequently used to refer to men’s trousers.
    “That’s a smart pair o’ kecks he’s wearin’!”

Leave a Reply