The question of “pants” vs “trousers”

For you word-smithers out there, don’t miss Jan Freeman’s “The Word” in today’s Boston Globe. While touching on other US vs UK word wars such as “cookies” versus “biscuits” and the quite opposite texture of a Brit chip and a a handful of Lays – Freeman zeros in on the “pants” versus “trousers” meaning and message. Pants seem a hot topic these days.

But which pants are we talking about? In England, pants are usually underpants, male or female. The basic word for the long-legged garment is trousers (although pants may appear in compounds – ski pants, harem pants)….

In American English, though, pants can be pretty much any two-legged garment worn below the waist: jeans, khakis, cropped pants, shorts, and even, sometimes, underpants. Given the divergence, how can our two nations hope to understand each other’s fiction, journalism, jokes? Clearly we need a pants treaty with Britain.

Check out her wordplay here at

Now don’t be a smartypants about this – remember we all put our pants trousers on – one leg at a time!