Back when pants were britches

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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Men and women wear pants today. Those garments — tin the case of men, mostly — are also known as trousers and slacks.

But go far enough out into the country and an old British term persists, particularly in rural phrases. That term, of course, is britches. Probably most widely used was, and occasionally still is, the derogatory “He’s too big for his britches.” That refers to one who seems to think he (or she) is too impressed with his own worth and sees himself above his peers. In generations past, that was a particularly telling phrase in the rural South, where social status and thus, social climbing, were still very much a part of the community.

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“Keep your britches on” is another reference to this early form of pants. It simply means one should not get too excited or eager for something to happen. It’s another way of saying “be patient.” Where would it have originated? It doesn’t take much to understand of when a young man might not want to keep his britches on.

Like much of our vocabulary, “britches” is a word handed down from our British forebears, and was originally “breeches.” It originally referred to the pants that generally ended just below the knee and that specific use survived into the early 20th century when “knee britches” were widely worn by young boys.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, very small boys wore dresses until they reached six or seven years of age. They were then “breeched” or began to wear breeches.

If you really want to get down in the weeds with these garment descriptions, try to determine why we refer to a “pair of pants” when we’re only talking about a single garment. Yes, they have a pair of legs, but why a “pair” of pants? Folks who make a career of language study disagree, but there seems to be quite a bit of evidence that two leggings at some point became a “pair” of breeches, now pants.

Whatever the origin, we universally refer to a “pair of pants.” It’s just that today, we are far too wise to ask who wears the pants in the house.


Courage can be manifested in many ways. Recently, I watched it onstage. The annual Southside Ballet dance recital included three of our grandchildren, so that’s where we spent a Saturday afternoon.

The fathers of Kendall Stalls and Lauren Leazer, two of the dance company’s older members, died just a few months ago. Fellow members of the dancers’ troupe were so moved by their friends’ loss that they insisted on performing a dance dedicated to the two men. The afternoon opened with “Save a Place for Me.” Both Lauren and Emily performed with their friends and were clearly moved by the tribute.

But then, the two fatherless daughters separately danced their personal tributes to their deceased dads. Kendall performed to “Wherever You Will go” and Lauren to “Daddy, Save a Dance for Me.”

It took a lot of courage, but both young ladies made it through their solo tributes.

And it took a lot of compassion for the studio to help these young ladies through a very difficult period in their lives.

Courage does come in many forms.