Pants, measles, and scissors.
Why is Pants Plural?
And finally getting to Brent's question, what about pants? According to "Esquire Magazine" (3), the stylish man calls them “trousers,” the unstylish man calls them “slacks,” the antiquated and most likely extinguished man calls them “breeches,” and the indifferent man calls them “pants.” The word "pants" originated in the French “pantaloon,” meaning tights, and comes from the character named “Pantaloun” in a sixteenth century Italian comedy. Pantaloun was a ridiculous old man who wore tight pants to show off his skinny legs. How this happened is anyone’s guess. Going back even further, Pantaleone [pan-ta-le-on- is from the Greek and means “all-compassionate.” (I think Sal, who wrote this post, is trying to punish me with all the foreign words in this episode. I apologize, because I'm sure I've mispronounced at least some of them.)
Sometime in 1840, pantaloon became pants and has been plural ever since. Cut a pair of pants in half and you have a wrecked pair of pants. There can be a pant leg, but pants remain pants. The phrase, “to fly by the seat of your pants” comes from World War II, when pilots monitored the condition of their planes by the engine vibrations coming through their pants.
Now that you understand how to use measles, scissors, and pants, remember the quick and dirty tip is that defective nouns are the same whether you're talking about one or a hundred of them and they are the way they are because of quirks in the way words evolve through the ages.
1. Strumpf, Michael and Auriel Douglas. The Grammar Bible. NY: Henry Holt, 2004.
2. Skeat, Walter W. An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. NY: Dover Publications, 2005.
3. Esquire Magazine, January 2009.