It’s one of the most common oddities of the English language: why do we say a pair of pants when it’s actually only one piece of clothing? Well, even though there’s no answer all linguists agree upon, there are two dominant theories that we will analyze in this article.
The first theory has to do with the time when pantaloons were actually made out of two items. You see, before being made the way we know them today, pants were actually consisted of two separate legs that were secured at the waist. Here’s a picture of a chap pants:
Therefore, calling them a pair of “pants” instead of pants made sense at the time since they were made out of two components. Later on, when the manufacturing process changed and pants were made into one garment, the phrase stuck and that’s why even today, we say “a pair of pants”. (the article continues after the ad)
The second theory is a bit more confusing and comes from the word pants itself.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word pants is a plurale tantum (Latin for “plural only”) and therefore can only be used in plural form. Plurale tantum nouns are usually items that can be divided into two even though there are only one item: binoculars, glasses, scissors, tweezers, sunglasses, pliers etc. Because of this, they are often preceded by a “pair of” and that’s why we say a “pair of pants”!
BONUS FACT: The word pants comes from Pantalone, a fictional character in Italian comedies. Pantalone, instead of wearing garments that came to the knee like most men at the time, he wore long legs that came down to his ankles.