This is very silly, but I can’t resist sharing it: Ben Zimmer at the Log reports on the latest auto-replace disaster, which produced a sentence beginning “When the particitrousers of the revolutionary movement in Korea…”:

We can surmise that when the UK edition of Harden’s book came out for the Kindle, an editor felt the need to screen it for Americanisms that might not translate well across the pond. Pants, understandably, would be one such Americanism to flag, since in British usage pants more typically refers to underwear. The pants/trousers divide was evident in Samuel Butler’s 1875 poem, “A Psalm of Montreal: “Thou callest trousers ‘pants’, whereas I call them ‘trousers’, Therefore thou art in hell-fire and may the Lord pity thee!” (For more, see my 2006 post, “Pioneers of word rage.”)

Using the Google Books version of Harden’s book, we can locate six instances where American pants usage could safely be swapped out for trousers. But the search-and-replace mission went too far, finding the substring pants in the sentence beginning, “When the participants of the revolutionary movement in Korea…”

This isn’t the first time that sloppy e-book editing has led to search-and-replace follies. A few years ago, we learned of an edition of War and Peace for Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader in which all instances of Kindle were replaced with Nook, leading to sentences like “It was as if a light had been Nookd…”

See Ben’s post for links, discussion, and a 1904 joke involving occutrousers.


  1. party trousers! I laughed my pants off

  2. Can you have ants in your trousers?

  3. “Can you have ants in your trousers?” — yes, but it’s not as serious as having them in your pants.

  4. Does the trouser press, either the magazine or the equipment, exist in the United States, and is it called pants press?

  5. J. W. Brewer says

    AJPC: (ceased publication 1984) was a U.S. rock-music periodical I was much devoted to in my wayward teens, but it was originally named as an Anglophile in-joke, presumably because the name made no sense to the median AmEng speaker.

  6. And in fact I just now understood the name! It always seemed like dada to me.

  7. J. W. Brewer says

    See this amazon listing using “pants press” to describe the device in question I have at some point in my life seen such devices in the U.S. (I think in hotels of a certain stratum catering to business travelers, and maybe my dad had one in the house when I was a boy although my memory on that is pretty vague) but have had so little occasion to discuss them in conversation that I have no strong intuition as to what I would call them. Because of Anglophilia-as-a-marketing strategy in the particular sort of U.S. businesses where I buy my suits (to the extent that certain BrEngisms just become the jargon of the particular trade and stop sounding like affectations), “trousers” as a synonym for “pants” doesn’t seem unidiomatic to me when talking about the specific sort of below-the-waist garment which (unlike jeans or whatever) you might actually have pressed. AmEng also has the possibly-now-semi-archaic “slacks” to refer to a fuzzily-defined subset of pants/trousers (neither too casual nor too formal). It’s the sort of word my mother used and may still use but it doesn’t feel native to my own idiolect.

  8. I remember in 1981 working at an office that was trying to appear respectable to the outside world (this was at the beginning of the Reagan years), and wearing my best trousers, a pair of grey-flannel wool, rather than my usual Levis, and a woman in the office who was quite senior said it was nice to see me “in slacks”. I was slightly hurt. I hadn’t realised slacks to her meant pretty much anything but suit trousers.

    There was a trouser press in my room at the main Hilton hotel when I was working in Miami. They’re supposed to be good for making grilled-cheese sandwiches.

  9. I wouldn’t refer to Levis as slacks either, so as JWB says it covers the middle range of respectability: not jeans or shorts, but not suit pants either.

  10. Since the subject of trouser presses came up, I wanted to provide a link to this song, and then discovered via the Wikipedia link above that it was in fact the source of the magazine’s name.

  11. AmEng also has the possibly-now-semi-archaic “slacks”

    The uh…rhyme possibilities of “slacks” means it has not become semi-archaic.

  12. I am surprised that any Americans would be confused by “trouser press.” I have certainly never used one, or even seem one in use, but I’ve known what they were (and roughly how they functioned) since childhood.

  13. Another outsider-confounding “press” pun in rock magazines: Ireland’s Hot Press. Bonus points for working out what “hot press” means without looking it up in Wikipedia. Not you, mollymooly.

  14. Now, that reminds me of Full Court Press, which was a brilliant name for a publisher. (It seems to have been taken over by a self-publishing service.) No idea about Hot Press.

  15. There was once a Presbyterian missionary publisher called Onward Press.

  16. Perhaps if Hot Press opens a U.S. subsidiary, they could call it Air Ring.

  17. Being married to an Irishwoman, I knew the use of the word “press” to mean “cupboard”, and “hot press” to mean what as a Briton I would call an airing cupboard, all evidently from “clothes press”, which of course was originally an implement to press clothes rather than a wardrobe: interesting piece of semantic drift there, much like “cupboard” drifted from “table to display cups on” to “closet with multiple shelves”.

  18. Is there a connection of some kind between wardrobe and (government) cabinet?

  19. Wardrobe, cabinet and privy. It’s all about degree of closeness to the ruler.

  20. Also household. The only one of those that exists in America is cabinet.

  21. AJP Crown.. I was intrigued to read a comment you made in May 2009 regarding a fur stole that had a snake inside (in Buenos Aires).
    My great Aunt lived in Buenos Aries and I recently typed up a family story about a snake in a fur stole.

  22. There’s a PG Wodehouse story in which one character pretends to be Bertie’s valet in order to get close to the girl he’s in love with (a fellow guest of Bertie’s at a house party, to which the lovelorn pretend-valet has not been invited because the host disapproves of him). He isn’t discovered, but he finds that doing a valet’s job doesn’t leave you much spare time for wooing, or, as he puts it, “you can’t press your suit and another man’s trousers at the same time”.

  23. What a great line! There is no end to Wodehouse’s wonderfulness.

  24. I first learned of ‘footling’ (q.v. next door) from Wodehouse.

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