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’

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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.

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