Call me Mr Crabby. Go on. Let it rip. Enjoy it. Because I am. I have become a ‘Grumpy Old Man’. “Yay, I’ve made it at last!” And now (proudly weary my shiny new GOM badge) I’m going to share with you may most hated word.
I’ll only say it once, and anyway it’s not a word I usually throw around with gay abandon. (apparently however, they are items that have been known to be thrown around, usually at musical concerts, and most definitely not in a gay way!)
Why do I loath this word so much? Because I do.
There was a time, long long ago when I went to school as a boy (soon after the end of the last ice-age, if you want more precision), there was one word for underpants – and that word was “underpants”. We all used it. It was concise, non-gendered and … neutral. Bland. White. Like they were. They were simply items of clothing. We put them on, then put more clothes over the top – causing them to disappear under the other clothes. Really logical.
And naturally enough ‘underpants’ was shortened to ‘undies’ and all was well with the world back then. We had reached the azimuth of English. We had a concise universal word for a common ordinary universal thing. As a word, ‘drawers’ was on it’s way out, thank God, and so was ‘bloomers’. I mean it was 1960! ‘Bloomers’ were never going to get us to the moon!
Then new words began to creep in. Boys could wear ‘jockeys’. (Theoretically, girls could’ve also enjoyed jockeys – since women also rode in horse races. Admittedly not as many. But the 1960s were not known for inclusive gender-neutral marketing.) ‘Jockeys’ became ‘jocks’, naturally enough, then along came ‘daks’, ‘briefs’, ‘Y-fronts’ and a whole array of other upstart newcomers. Even ‘boxers’. (Oh come on, people! Boxers are dogs, weren’t they?)
Anyway, somewhere in that decade, sneaking into the language like the despicable thing it is – came the P-word! Without any fanfare; and without me at first noticing or caring, girls and women had been given their own special word: a Psychological Diminutive. And that’s what disturbs me about it the most: It demeans.
But actually, it had been there a lot longer. A quick bit of Googling gave me this:
“Literally: “little pants.” The suffix puts it in the same category as “booties” and “blankies”—words often associated with small children. In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known use of “panties” is from a 1908 set of instructions for making doll clothes.
Ah-hah: underpants for dolls! There it is! Right – so now we’re digging deeper inside my most loathed word, digger deeper, yes … and getting to the nub of the whole thing that maddens me about this cursed word: ‘The suffix puts it in the same category as “booties” and “blankies”—words often associated with small children.’ ” … Right. There!
Someone, and I suspect it was some product marketing exec (or a team of the scum-buckets) decided to up-scale this word. They consciously and deliberately sold it to the world – to women and girls everywhere – as ‘their special girly word’. Girls could no longer enjoy good sensible robust solidly-made underpants (capable of taking a real beating on the jungle-gym or on the lawn or the row-boat/bicycle/horse-saddle/swings/seesaw). Nope – they were compelling to have to don something far more delicate. Something silky. Flimsy. Lacy. Pretty. Fragile. And honestly – whenever I look at the advertising imagery (which I seldom ever do! No! Good heavens, no!) that’s what I see.
<CUE KIDDY MUSIC> “Delicate; Silky; Flimsy; Lacy; and Pretty Fragile, too. This is what little girls are made of!”
Bullshit! It’s propaganda!! It’s a word that has been given a lot of money, a lot of mileage, a lot of visibility. And humanity: men, women, parents, and girls themselves; they’ve all carried it forwards by 60-odd years. A word that is constantly sending the same signal: “you are children“.
According to advertising, these doll-pants are supposedly the desirable thing to wrap your backsides in, and more especially your ‘front-bums’ – the very things that define and access your true, awesome, damn-near miraculous power: To create, nurture and give birth to brand-new human beings (I mean; WOW!) – and they’re trying to tell you that the very core of your female powers is flimsy? That you’re weak?
It’s bullshit. Evil, insidious, corrosive toxic bullshit! This is why I hate it so much! And it seems I’m not alone. Here’s some further reading: [The Atlantic. FEBRUARY 16, 2013]
Please: Can we start a movement? Can we start a discussion? Can we just … delete this nasty thing from our language? Bit by bit? Every chance we get? Please?
I’ll leave the final quote to the wonderful Betty White: “Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”