Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pants. (a 'brief' essay)

When people in the US say "pants," we're making reference to things like blue jeans, slacks, trousers, etc. The outermost layer of clothing that covers one's legs.

They look like this:

Elsewhere, this is not necessarily so.

For example, when folks in the UK say "pants," they are speaking of underpants. (Tightie-whities, boxers, briefs; you know what I mean.)

These things:

As a matter of fact, I have it from a reliable source (read: a JET from London) that when a British person of a certain age and subculture wishes to describe something (say, a cheap beer) that we might call "crappy" or "bullshit" in the US, they may choose the phrase "this beer is pants" to express their displeasure.

Naturally, I find this hilarious. Especially because it pertains to Japanese culture as well.

Many Japanese words are derived from the western pronunciation of the very same word. Some examples:

ketchup --> kechappu --> ケチャップ

coffee --> kouhii --> コーヒー
(note that the lack of a pronunciable "f" means that all F's become airy H's in Japanese)

personal computer --> pasonaru konpyuuta --> パソコン
(shortened to "pasokon" for ease of pronunciation)

Ergo, should you find yourself suddenly lacking a word in Japanese conversation, you may very well be able to fudge your way through by simply stuffing the equivalent English term through the filter of Japanese pronunciation.

Or not.

Having been adopted from the Queen's English before it was a term en vogue in the States, in Japan the word "pants" (pantsu [パンツ]) has retained its UK references. That is, "pantsu" refers to underwear, just as it does in the UK. If one wants to say "trousers," one should use the word zubon (ズボン).

American students forget this all the time.

Sure enough, led into a false sense of security by the comfort of so many English pronunciations translating directly into Japanese, most US students of Japanese language are doomed to commit a thousand errors with the word "pants" through the course of their linguistic exploration.

"I've got the room key in my underwear pocket."

"Hey, cute underpants. Are they new?"

Upon spilling coffee:
"Damn. Stained my underpants again." infinitum. There are, of course, many other tricky words that don't mean the same on the J-islands as they do in the states, but "pants" will forever be my favorite.

"Please pardon the small puddles on the floor.
I have only just come in from the rain,
and the cuffs of my underwear are wet."

Heh, brief. Get it? Brief essay? (In any case, back shortly...)
Lulz, shortly. *snrk*


Nikki said...

"It's getting chilly, so I'll be wearing underpants to work a lot more often."

Ku said...

Game over, Nikki wins the Internets. :D

Fragile Porpoise said...

You are both so awesome that I cannot chose sides and thus decree that this post as a whole (including comments but not this one) is my hero.

Ku said...

You do realize, of course, that you declaring awesomeness upon others is akin to something born of the mind of Stephen Hawking... right?

Like a hypersphere.

Which is just a fancy way of saying donut. :D

Oh god, I'm hungry. ;_;

Fragile Porpoise said...

That concept is far too advanced for my feeble mind so now I too am hungry.

ミJean★Claudeミ said...

Actually, パンツ used to be synonymous with ズボン, and it still is with some people. It depends on how old the person is who's listening to you, because old people (read:35+) will think of actual pants. It also depends on if you pronounce it as one or two syllables. The two-syllable pronunciation is safer as some people will still say "pan-tsoo" to describe their pants. {: