Errors & Omissions: Who wears the trousers in the British-American relationship?

 

This column does not go on about "Americanisms". How could anyone who has read, say, The Great Gatsby entertain for a moment the snobby idea that American English is some crude, bastardised colonial offshoot of "our" great language?

However, that said, consistency demands that a British newspaper stick to British English; that we refer to "petrol", not "gasoline", and write "got" not "gotten" (Shame! I like "gotten"); and that we maintain and defend the present perfect tense ("He has gone") against being subsumed by the past simple ("He went"). That last one I do feel strongly about: to write "He isn't here; he went already" is to impoverish the language.

Anyway, I was surprised by the vehemence of the reaction around The Independent's Comment desk to the following, which appeared in a news story on Tuesday: "Out from behind the drape jumped a man in a white shirt and khaki pants."

Pants! Pants are gentlemen's underwear, my outraged colleagues insisted. The man was wearing khaki trousers. They are right, of course, though an Irish colleague contributed the information that "pants" is the invariable usage not just in America but in Ireland too.

Now, that is interesting and strange, because the Shorter Oxford suggests that the word "trousers", dating from 1599, may actually be descended from the Irish or Scots Gaelic word triubhas – see also the Scots "trews". "Pants", on the other hand, is a 19th-century short form of "pantaloons", the kind of trousers worn by the traditional Italian comedy character Pantalone (Shakespeare's "lean and slippered pantaloon").

By the way, that "drape" should be a curtain.

Royal style: There seems to be a strange problem with the titles of some royal ladies. Thursday's diary reported on a Buckingham Palace garden party: "Kate Middleton was permanently hidden behind a crush of guests." Everybody seems to call the Duchess of Cambridge by her unmarried name.

Twenty years ago, millions of people refused to use the proper style of Prince William's late mother and insisted on calling her "Princess Diana". In that case, of course, many of them were making a point. To this day, those who took her side in the break-up of her marriage sentimentalise over Princess Diana, while those who sympathised with the Prince of Wales refer, with icy correctness, to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Happily, there is nothing like that about the "Kate Middleton" business. I suspect that people, having got to know her by that name, simply see no reason to change – especially when the title "Duchess of Cambridge" is easily confused with that of her stepmother-in-law, the Duchess of Cornwall. There is nothing wrong with a diary item following popular taste, but let's hope the news pages stick to the proper style.

Homophone horror: Peter Henderson writes in to point out this, from a news story about the Leveson Inquiry, published on Thursday: "Jeremy Hunt is due to give evidence about his roll in the takeover bid."

Oddly enough, "roll" and "role" are the same word. A roll is anything rolled up, such as parchment. A role is a roll on which is written the part to be played by an actor. The spellings are different because "roll" came from French to English in the Middle Ages, but "role" didn't arrive until the 17th century.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam