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Sep 27, 2020
This week’s theme
Shirts & pants

This week’s words
trouser role

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

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AWADmail Issue 952

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

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From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the Net

The Inside Story of the $8 Million Heist from the Carnegie Library

Language Keepers: On the Fight to Save the Karuk Language
Literary Hub

From: Christina Vasilevski (christina.vasilevski gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fancy-pants

Fans of nerdy music will also think of Mr. Fancypants (video, 1 min.), a short, fast-paced song about a man who wears, well, you don’t really need to guess.

Christina Vasilevski, Toronto, Canada

From: Quantum Mechanic (quantum.mechanic.1964 gmail.com)
Subject: fancy pants

Reminds me of a wonderful series of games, first in the browser, and later for phones and tablets. The main character is just a stick figure with big yellow trousers. The game was quite fun to play, with lots of sliding and bouncing, and many other silly characters.

Quantum Mechanic, Cambridge, UK

From: Jason Jehosephat (via website comments)
Subject: shirtsleeves

As a kid I was confused when I’d read characters described as being “in shirtsleeves”. “He entered in shirtsleeves” might as well have read “He entered in clothes”, because wearing a shirt, a shirt with sleeves, was what I considered the norm. Later on, I noticed that my grandfather and, later, my partner’s father, never went out without a jacket on, and realized that this was a holdover from before my time, when this was the general custom for men, of certain places and social classes at least. Going out without a coat was almost as unlikely for them as walking down a city street wearing shorts and flip-flops.

Jason Jehosephat

From: Bob Richmond (via website comments)
Subject: Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves

From Oxford Reference:
“shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”, from proverbial saying, early 20th century; meaning that wealth gained in one generation will be lost by the third. The saying is often attributed to the Scottish-born American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) but is not found in his writings.

Googling this phrase, I found numerous links to sites about how families may act to preserve inherited wealth, in a nation where a permanent aristocracy of inherited wealth is rapidly developing, and is favored by close to half of Americans.

Bob Richmond, Maryville, Tennessee

From: Lynn Porter Zechner (zechner rogers.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shirtsleeve

I have had more than one friend who has had a friend with the surname “Courtmanche” who has ended up referring to their partner as “shortsleeves”.

Lynn Porter Zechner, Toronto, Canada

Email of the Week -- Brought to you by Wise Up! -- the family that plays together stays together

From: David Mezzera (damezz comcast.net)
Subject: Rosie the Riveter

The poster in today’s A.Word.A.Day is the Westinghouse factory poster, but Rosie had a prior life: Norman Rockwell’s painting of Rosie the Riveter appeared on the cover of a May 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post It’s noticeably different from J. Howard Miller’s version. Rosie has a rivet gun, welding goggles, construction clothes, and a sandwich, and is stomping on a copy of Mein Kampf!

David Mezzera, Vallejo, California

From: Divya Sahasrabuddhe (divya.divyas gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--trouser role

I love this one! When I was six years old, I was picked to play the part of Pinocchio in a school play. Today (24 years later), I learnt that it was a trouser role.

Divya Sahasrabuddhe, Goa, India

From: Patricia Bateup (psb7251252 aol.com)
Subject: trouser role

This bought to mind the Christmas pantomimes I enjoyed growing up in England. The main characters are Principal Boy (played by a girl) and a Panto Dame (played by a man), plus other essential characters such as a comedy animal and a sidekick to encourage audience participation in traditional songs, booing the villain, etc., and a lot of bawdy jokes and contemporary references. There’s usually a well-known entertainer playing one of the parts and magical special effects.

Great fun for the whole family and a Boxing Day tradition.

Patricia Bateup, Macungie, Pennsylvania

From: Dennis Montgomery (gaulay2 yahoo.com)
Subject: dress roles

So, was the opposite for males playing females called dress roles?

Dennis Montgomery, Phoenix, Arizona

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Trouser role

Notable trouser roles in opera are Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss, Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Hansel in Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck (children’s favourite Christmas treat, due to the witch's getting her comeuppance in the oven), and Orfeo in Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice. My favourite in the latter is Dame Janet Baker who not only sings but dances, too, and with her singing and playing the lyre she charms the Furies and Spectres, while leading the entire cast in the closing chorus.

A well-deserved award bestowed on her by Queen Elizabeth II was her appointment in 1976 to the Order of the British Empire. The only problem is that there is no such thing as British Empire any more.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Bert Ashbrook (bert.ashbrook comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--trouser role

The term “trouser role” long predates 1955. For example, Richard Wagner’s opera Rienzi (first performed in 1842) features the role of Adriano, a man generally played by a mezzo-soprano. In 1913, Oskar Bie described the role as “eine Hosenrolle”: Oskar Bie, Die Oper, Berlin: S. Fisher, p. 429 (1913). That term was translated into English by Daniel Gregory Mason, ed., The Art of Music, vol. 9, New York: National Society of Music, p. 264 (1916). “Rienzi will be seen to have all the essential elements and potential effect of the Grand Opera -- love and revenge, mercy and treason, religion and maledictions, crime and expiation ... and, as Dr. Bie adds, even a ‘trouser role’.” But the German term had been translated before that: in 1914, the United States granted a copyright for the genderbending German film, Lolas Hosenrolle, using the English title, Lola’s Trouser Role.

Bert Ashbrook, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From: Douglas Bietsch (adbietsch comcast.net)
Subject: Trouser role

I have detested trouser roles since childhood. We used to listen to the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday matinee broadcast while doing quiet household chores. Naturally, the operas were not in English. Imagine trying to follow a story in a foreign language without seeing the action! We listened to Milton Cross give the story synopsis and character descriptions before each act. This was usually helpful to me unless there was a male character played by a female singer. All was lost when Cherubino entered the scene in The Marriage of Figaro, or Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier began to sing. I heard only women singing, so the story thread was broken. To this day I cannot listen to Die Fledermaus or even Hansel and Gretel unless they are sung in English.

Douglas Bietsch, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania

From: Brenda J. Gannam (gannamconsulting earthlink.net)
Subject: Women and trousers

At a number of Southern universities in the US, women were not allowed to wear pants on campus as late as 1970. I guess the sexual revolution was fine, as long as there was no sartorial gender bending.

Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, New York

From: Dominique Mellinger (dominiquemellinger yahoo.co.uk)
Subject: trousers

In France girls were not allowed to wear trousers at school, and especially jeans, sometimes way into the 70s.

Dominique Mellinger, Gorze, France

From: Edward Pixley (pixleyee oneonta.edu)
Subject: breeches parts

In the early years of English theatre, once women were allowed on stage after 1660, such roles were called breeches (or britches) parts. Nell Gwynn, one of Charles’s mistresses, was particularly famous for playing such roles. They would show off her legs. Trousers (long pants) didn’t really come into fashion until the 19th century.

Edward Pixley, Oneonta, New York

From: Margaret Peacock (nmjpeacock yahoo.co.uk)
Subject: trouser role

The Scottish Gaelic word triubhas lives on in the Scots language, frequently borrowed in Scottish English usage as “trews”. Men wear tartan trews or a kilt for special occasions.

Margaret Peacock, Glasgow, Scotland

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Brownshirt

In Chaplin’s 1940 movie The Great Dictator, the stormtroopers act according to the current needs of the Nazi Party. First, they molest Jews, smash the windows of their stores or paint them with swastikas, throw their freshly washed linen into the mud. Then, when Hitler has a chance to borrow money from them, they suddenly start acting like gentlemen: helping to carry the laundry, remove the paint from the windows, talk politely, etc.

Ultimately, alas, they revert to form (vid. the Kristallnacht segment of the film.)

The entire movie is available in English from a Portuguese source under O Grande Ditador (2 hrs.)

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Michael Wolfson (mgwolfson gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--brownshirt

While the original Sturmabteilung were a military unit, they were trained for infiltration and assault in small units during World War One. The Sturmabteilung formed by Hitler around 1919 were not military (they were at best an extra-governmental paramilitary), and that’s the group generally referred to as Brownshirts. The brownshirts were formed to guard Nazi rallies, to disrupt the rallies of other parties (and fight with the other parties’ paramilitaries), and to harass or brutalise opponents and critics of the Nazis. Your description makes them sound more like an organized military unit engaged in military activities (if in a violent and brutal way, though most military activities involve at least some degree of violence and brutality), while the Nazi SA was a gang of bully boys who engaged in extra-governmental and extra-military activities.

Michael Wolfson, New York, New York

From: Brett Pruit (brett.a.pruit gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--brownshirt

Brownshirts were not trained police or military. They were Hitler’s leg breakers from his political party. They are more analogous to modern day private militias that show up in support of far-right-wing organizers or politicians. In fact, you still see members of the Nazi Party marching in protests dressed up in Brown Shirt uniforms.

Brett Pruit, San Antonio, Texas

From: Randall Hall (rrhall aol.com)
Subject: brownshirts

Germany had the brownshirts, Italy had Benito Mussolini’s blackshirts, and here in America, we had William Dudley Pelley’s fascist Silver Legion of America known as the Silver Shirts. When he was 23, Eric Sevareid, then a reporter for the Minneapolis Journal, wrote a six-part expose of the Silver Shirts activities in Minneapolis which, at that time, was one of the most anti-semitic cities in the country.

Randall Hall, St Paul, Minnesota

From: Craig Good (clgood me.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--seat-of-the-pants

The etymology you give is correct, but the belief that “seat-of-the-pants” or any other human senses can orient a pilot inside a cloud is tragically wrong, as was eventually understood. Without instruments the average time for a pilot to go from straight and level flight to a graveyard spiral is about 70 seconds. In instrument training I had to learn to completely ignore what my body was telling me and trust the instruments. We evolved walking and swinging in trees, and we simply cannot use our own senses to orient in flight unless our eyes can see a valid reference.

The way a graveyard spiral works is roughly this: The plane starts a mild turn and the airspeed increases. The untrained pilot (or one without the right instruments) tries pulling back (applying “up” elevator) to reduce their speed. But since they are in a turn, this causes the plane to speed up and start spiraling down. Further pulling back just increases the speed *and* the sensation that the plane is going up. Planes at the end of the death spiral usually hit the ground inverted, if the speed and stresses haven’t torn them apart first.

Very early aviators thought that flying by the seat of the pants was a sign of a suitable airman. It wasn’t too long after 1929 that they learned this wasn’t the case. It can happen at night when no horizon is visible, as happened to JFK junior.

Craig Good, Vallejo, California

From: Richard Stallman (rms gnu.org)
Subject: seat-of-the-pants flying

It turns out that you can’t distinguish descending in a helical path from straight and level flight by feel alone. You can detect the descent if you have an altimeter, and the turning if you have a compass.

Dr Richard Stallman, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Pam Phillips (pam_phillips comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--seat-of-the-pants

“Seat of the pants” has also become a term for writing a story without making a plan in advance. When writers meet, an early question is often “Are you an outliner or a pantser?”

Pam Phillips, Watertown, Massachusetts

From: Joe Hypoman (joehypo yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--seat-of-the-pants

Some years ago, at a local duplicate bridge tournament, a player complained to a director (game official): “She bids by the seat of her pants”. The director replied, “Everyone does, some people have better seats.”

Phil Benamy, Boca Raton, Florida

From: John D. Laskowski (john.laskowski mothman.org)
Subject: Shirts and pants

When it is positive, I say “I’d give the shirt off my back”, when not I say “Thanks a pant load!”

John D. Laskowski, Carsonville, Pennsylvania

From: Martin Frampton (sandynap36 gmail.com)
Subject: Pants

Pants? Fancy that! In England, pre-1955, pants were what was worn beneath trousers -- underpants. Despite what readers might believe, there never has been anything called overpants. They were part of that clothing group called underwear, that covering of the naked form under the outer clothing of both males and females.

The only time we used the words “pant” and “pants” was to describe the action taken to restore physical normality after being in a state of breathlessness: out of breath or short of breath. WWI history gave us knowledge of the French pantaloon when the French army advanced on the enemy wearing their normal bright red “trousers” and most of the wounded suffered below the waistline wounds. The suggestion was they should abandon the red ones in favour of green. The cry went up in the French Senate, “Vive le Pantaloon rouge!” I am sure readers will find this comment quite riveting when one recalls the comment from one infamous Liverpudlian who declared that Mondays should be taken out of the calendar for lack of interest.

Martin Frampton, Newton Abbot, UK

Pantalone's Play
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Pantalone & brownshirt

Here, I’ve pictured a scenario from the commedia dell’arte featuring the character Pantalone, from which pantaloni, the Italian word for trousers is derived, that gave us pantaloons, which became pants. Thus, Pantalone could be regarded as the quintessential fancy-pants, usually depicted as a ladies’ man with an abiding pecuniary streak. In seeking out love, his overtures are usually met with scorn and rejection. Here, Pantalone attempts to woo a fair damsel, reciting bawdy poesy couched in nautical metaphor.

Brownie Points?
Here, Hitler praises one of his Nazi youth, a junior member of the brown-shirted, goose-stepping stormtrooping brigade. The brown-shirted youth corps during the formative days of the Nazis’ rise to power were known as the “Jugendbund”. As adults, many of them advanced into the SS military ranks and died on the battlefields of WWII. Hence my notion of “tinder” in Froggy’s aside.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

Anagrams of This Week’s Words
1. fancy-pants
2. shirtsleeve
3. trouser role
4. brownshirt
5. seat-of-the-pants
= 1. snotty
2. pleasant weather
3. reverse or bluff
4. sharpshooter
5. instincts
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)


I fell for a real Dapper Dan,
But now I’m no fancy-pants fan.
His wardrobe was chic;
I liked his mystique --
But clothes I learned don’t make the man.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

The little fast-food joint became
a gourmet place with a famous name.
The new owner from France
had made it fancy-pants:
Pricey; the fare insipid and lame.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

Says Trump: “He’s a damn fancy pants!”
He’s been after poor Fauci with rants,
Since the time when that doc
Urged the prexy to block
Chloroquine, cuz it hasn’t a chance!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

To me, Fred Astaire was a fancy-pants;
I’d rather watch Ollie and Stanley dance.
But perhaps you’ll agree
That we’d both rather see
The world’s pole-dancing champ in her panties prance?
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Said Adam, observing the way
his mate was behaving that day,
“We must be alert, Eve.
That snake has a shirtsleeve
demeanor. He’ll lead us astray!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Trump’s shirtsleeve diplomacy’s poor,
Annoying our allies, I’m sure.
He’s lacking in tact;
I think that, in fact,
Most see him as simply a boor.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Picture Biden and Trump in their teens
Learning what a day’s work really means
And you’ll laugh -- or you’ll cry?
Seeing which shirtsleeve guy
Is worth more than a small hill o’beans!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

When I’m writing, my aspect is shirtsleeve,
In my efforts to, someone who’s dirt, grieve.
For I dream of the day
That a tweet comes my way
From the Donald: “Your limericks hurt, Steve.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

She sighs, “Though the fatalists say
that I’m destined forever to play
a lead trouser role,
I’m espousing the goal
of becoming a diva some day!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

The most stunning young thespian stole
A large part anyone would extol.
It required that she
Would turn into a he
As the new “Romeo” trouser role.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

For trouser roles she is well-known --
As Hansel this mezzo has shone!
When she wears the pants,
There is a great chance
Cross-dressing will critics condone.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

If directors will give her a chance,
a contralto who looks good in pants
can, with each trouser role,
come closer to her goal
and her future in opera advance.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

The audience loved tonight’s play!
The guy was a gal! No, not gay!
‘Twas “trouser role” casting
In case you are asking
As Shakespeare would do in his day!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

Viola, while playing a trouser role,
Finds Orsino’s the one to arouse her soul.
At the end of Twelfth Night,
Though, her gender’s put right,
Which back then, helped achieve one’s espousal goal.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

She’s bringing her new fiancé
so her parents can meet him today.
“Do not play the clown, Bert,
nor act like a brownshirt.
My folks wouldn’t like you that way!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

All those who are there to protect
Certainly deserve our respect.
It is so unfair
To ever compare
Them to brownshirts; it’s incorrect.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

When brownshirts beat protesters back,
Democracy’s under attack.
I’m sorry to say,
But this is one way
Our country has gotten off-track.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Our thin blue line serves and protects,
but that concept “Dear Leader” rejects:
“To brute power revert!
Go put on that brown shirt
as your leader deserves and expects!”
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

For a photo-op Trump had to go,
But protesters were in the way. So,
He called in his brownshirt.
Peaceful crowds they did hurt.
In his Bible-held-upside-down show.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“The clock ticks away like a brownshirt,”
Thought Anu, so sad that his frown hurt.
“It’s like being in chains
To each day wrack my brains
And a verb, modifier, or noun spurt.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Whenever Joan takes a big chance
to try out a tricky new dance
with a blind-date beau ...
uh-oh! Don’t ya know
his style’s by-the-seat-of-the-pants.
-Mariana Warner, Asheville, North Carolina (marianaw6002 gmail.com)

The reunion in gay Paris, France,
Was arranged very seat-of-the-pants.
After so many years,
There was laughter and tears
From each one of the uncles and aunts.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

It’s easy to tell at a glance
Trump flies by the seat of the pants.
When all seems quite grim,
He’ll act on a whim,
While experts will look on askance.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Oh please, not that news counterfeiter!
The dude’s so addicted to Twitter!
He’s someone who rants
By the seat-of-the-pants;
Let us not re-elect the bulls___er!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

“Those were the days,” said Wilbur Wright,
To his brother, Orville, one night,
“When we flew, took a chance,
By the seat-of-the-pants,
Pioneering the birth of flight.”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“I’ll fly by the seat-of-the-pants,”
Said Lindy, “across this expanse.
The Atlantic is boring,
But soon I’ll be scoring;
The girls will just love me in France.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


My poor dog gets so hot in the summer that if I don’t turn on the fancy-pants.
-Jim Ertner, Greensboro, North Carolina (jde31459 gmail.com)

The famous actress said, “I only go out in public in a skirt or dress. I can’t let my fancy-pants.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The patient complained to the optometrist, “You spilled the drops all over my brow’n’shirt.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“What is Adam’s wife’s name?”
“I’m quite shirtsleeve.”
-Joe Budd Stevens, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (joebuddstevens gmail.com)

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Trump’s Foibles & Follies

Stunning new revelations have surfaced from veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, that Trump knew, as early as Feb. ‘20, that the novel coronavirus was far more severe and lethal than the common flu. But he played down the danger, telling Woodward that he didn’t want to create panic. Woodward quotes actual taped conversations (18 in all) with him, where he essentially lied to, and deceived the American people.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence. -Henri Frederic Amiel, philosopher and writer (27 Sep 1821-1881)

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