Posted by Lewis on January 12, 2004
In Reply to: "Pair of underwear" posted by Bob on January 11, 2004
: : : : Why do we say "pair of underware" when there is only one? Anyone know where this originated?
: : : To say "a pair of underwear" is not quite as illogical as it sounds, although I don't know how often it is used, as opposed to, say, a pair of briefs, a pair of panties, a pair of shorts and the like. Underwear in the plural for a garment that is singular is, I hope, confined to those garments through which you can put your legs. Although many items of underwear have bilateral symmetry, only those that have holes for the legs are spoken of in the plural when only one is in question. SS
: : In German, at least, these words are singular - a trouser: a spectacle etc. Is there another language where the words are pleural?
: I looked in M-W on line, and that dictionary at least recognizes trouser, and says "often used in the plural." Come to think of it, one does hear "trouser material" and "trouser length."
: They recognize "scissor," too.
I think somebody with a good view of the history of fashion is needed here for the definitive answer - but I may be able to contribute in the interim.
Trousers or 'trews' are a modern form of breaches/britches. Notice the name - it contains the name for a gap (once more until the breach etc) and that I think is because the middle part of a pair of trousers is a later addition. I think that the original trews were leg coverings - like all-round protective 'chaps' (chaps from cheeks - meaning side pieces - yes?) which may have sometimes been worn under a kirtle or kilt. often the genitals would be separately covered (or not) for easy access. when cod-pieces were the rage - a holder for cods - the leggings would definitely have been a pair without all-round cover.
So, partial answer - the clothing that covers the legs, bottom and genitals - was originally not in one piece and a pair of trousers was thus two leg-pieces joined together - with or without crotch cover.