Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A pair is two, or is it? ~ TWOsday

Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing From America's Favorite Humorist ~ by Erma Bombeck, 1996, humor, 8/10
Erma Bombeck was an American humorist who achieved great popularity for her newspaper column that described suburban home life from the mid-1960s until the late 1990s.  She published 15 books and wrote over 4,00 newspaper columns, some of which are collected in this volume.
Let's blame this post on Erma Bombeck, shall we?  I've been reading Forever, Erma, and I guess her quirky way of thinking rubbed off on me.  On Saturday night, I was 86% of the way through my Kindle edition, which (it tells me) is page 236 of 274 pages.  When I put down my Kindle and turned out the light, my mind took up this word puzzle:
Why do we say "a pair of pants" when it's a single item?  The words "pants" and "jeans" both end with -s, which is how we usually make words plural in English.  And we say, "I bought a pair of jeans."  Why?
The next day, I looked online for "pair of," which is how I solve word problems these days.  That "pair of" words could be defined as "Single items referred to as pairs."  The example given was a pair of pants."  Uh-huh, I got that already.  Then I found a long list that included lots of examples, such as:
  • a pair of scissors
  • a pair of glasses
  • a pair of pliers
  • a pair of clippers
On the other hand, two separate items that commonly come together are also called a pair:
  • a pair of shoes
  • a pair of socks
  • a pair of gloves
  • a pair of cuff links
  • a pair of earrings
  • a pair of skates
  • a pair of crutches
  • a pair of chopsticks
Then we also have the confusion of being able to count pairs of things:  six pairs of scissors, three pairs of shoes, two pairs of earrings.  But I still don't know why this is the way we talk.  I decided to share the pair of pears above because they fit at least one of dictionary.com's definitions of "pair":
  1. two identical, similar, or corresponding things that are matched for use together:
    a pair of gloves; a pair of earrings.
  2. something consisting of or regarded as having two parts or pieces joined together:
    a pair of scissors; a pair of slacks.
  3. two individuals who are similar or in some way associated:
    a pair of liars; a pair of seal pups.
  4. a married, engaged, or dating couple.
The pair of pears are (is?) a twosome, a couple.  I went back to my online search and found this informative answer to the question Why is the word "pants" plural?  Here's a snippet:
"Before the days of modern tailoring, such garments, whether underwear or outerwear, were indeed made in two parts, one for each leg.  The pieces were put on each leg separately and then wrapped and tied or belted at the waist (just like cowboys’ chaps).  The plural usage persisted out of habit even after the garments had become physically one piece.  However, a shirt was a single piece of cloth, so it was always singular."

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