Saturday, December 10, 2005


Sailors have a language all of their own. I'm not talking about all that technical jargon that we use to intimidate newcomers to the sport. No, I mean those, let's say, "colorful" words that we use in moments of stress or when we want to emphasize a point.

The author of notes from a very small island, hobbes,
wrote a very funny account back in July about that "helpful sailing terminology of the type that sometimes gets thrown around in our boat or in brothels when things get exciting."

And, of course, if you are daring enough to frequent the Sailing Anarchy forums then you will soon learn all the special words you will need as a sailor.

But in reading bviemma's story about sailing in the Laser Radial Worlds I came across an expression that was new to me. On Wednesday she reported that she "did pants" and at the end of the regatta she told the world that her "result was pants".

Huh? Pants? Where does that come from?

A quick google identified that this is one of those examples where as George Bernard Shaw put it, "England and America are one country divided by a common language". The point being of course that it's not a common language at all.

So, back to pants. Apart from the difference in meaning of this word when used in polite company in the UK and USA, a number of websites report that during the 90s a new meaning of the word crept into British slang. As an adjective or a noun, "pants" can apparently mean rubbish, bad, total crap ...

Wikipedia adds the fascinating cultural footnote that "this usage gained wider attention when it came to light that the then Prime Minister John Major
tucked his shirt into his underpants."

What? It must be true. It's in Wikipedia.

So when Emma says she "did pants" it means, I assume, that her sailing performance did not match up to her expectations.

Of course, Emma does not live in the USA or the UK. So I am just guessing that British slang is more prevalent in the BVI that it is in the USA. But be careful, Emma. That utterly reliable source Wikipedia also tells us that "in Canadian drug use slang, pants can sometimes be a codeword for heroin."

So now you know.

I'm going sailing tomorrow. Hope I don't do pants.

1 comment:

BeachComber said...

Also worth mentioning that by the early 90s, "pants" in England meant underpants. So, whenever I mentioned my pants when I was talking about my trousers, it caused a thoroughly English mix of amusement and mockery from my friends. And every time I had to go through the whole drill of, "What's pants short for?"
"And why are they called that, because they go under your pants, maybe?"
Which would inevitably lead to, "We invented that language, you South African American!"

From meaning underpants to meaning bad is a short hop, because they're, well, pants.

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