To be pants

Thomas Tompion

Senior Member
English - England
I need help.

Andy Murray last night said:

1. My serve was pants.

Is to be pants a common expression for to be bad? If so, who uses it?

2. I served pants.

Is pants being used adverbially here to mean badly, or is it the direct object of the transitive verb to serve.

Please forgive my ignorance. I'm keen to keep my English up to date.
 
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  • sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think this has come in in the last decade. Younger people seem to use it most. It must be a reasonably common expression, because my local buses display the words "Parking is pants - so don't do it" - either that or the bus company is trying to be trendy and rid itself of its "pensionsers and students" image. I have only ever come across the adjectival usage, not the adverbial.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I think I first came across it (1) in the Bridget Jones columns. I've never heard the strange construction of 'I served pants' though.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I really thought this would have been aired before but I can't find a previous thread about it.
    Yes, Mr.T, pants is a common adjective meaning 'bad' (I also hear pantsy from time to time).
    I too have never heard it used adverbially, though. I served pants sounds like a rather odd dinner party anecdote to me.
     

    fisherofsouls

    Member
    English/UK
    I'm sorry to say I think this expression has been and gone.

    It was all the rage about a decade ago - now the only people you here using it are sad dads...
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    If you were to use it on an AE speaker, you would see a fine case of counter-rotating eyeballs, possibly with the accompaniment of "Huh?".
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm still interested in the possible adverbial use.

    Suppose the word is used in the same way as rubbish - tell me if I'm wrong in thinking this.

    People say: my serve was rubbish (pants): noun - no problem.
    But they also say: I served rubbish (pants): problem, at least in my mind. Does this mean I served rubbish (pants) noun (direct object of to serve) or I served rubbish (pants) adverb (telling us how he served).

    Can we settle the matter by taking a verb for which I have trouble finding a transitive meaning - to sleep?

    Can one sleep pants? - to mean to sleep badly. It sounds all wrong to me, but then so did the words on the lips of the tennis player.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Not so fast, young feller! What if rubbish~lousy~awful is an adjective in that example.
    Still no problem, Cuchu. He had a rubbish serve; can one have a pants serve?

    Secondary question: can pants be an adjective?

    I'm still wondering if it can be an adverb.

    Is it in the supplement to the Greater Oxford Dictionary? It should be if it's such old hat.
     

    Silver_Biscuit

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Yes, it can be an adjective. I've never heard it used as an adverb. Here is the entry from the OED:

    4. Brit. slang. Rubbish; nonsense. Freq. in pile (also load) of pants.
    The use of the noun in this sense is often difficult to distinguish from a predicative adjectival use.
    1994 Guardian 22 Sept. II. 4/2 It's all a bit embarrassing because Mayo (catchphrase: ‘It's a pile of pants!’) fails to recognise her at first. 1996 SFX May 75/2 Sure, the pilot is complete pants, utterly derivative and deathly slow, and all the actors seem to be competing to see who can flex the least facial muscles, but don't let that put you off. 1996 Sporting Life (Nexis) 4 Aug. 15 Snooker? I'd rather we never won a medal of any sort again than see that pile of pants being accorded olympic status. 1997 Total Film Sept. 113/1 Then again, Mike says he's pleasantly surprised by our acting. I think he thought we were going to be absolute pants. 2000 Independent (Electronic ed.) 21 Dec., A Liberal Democrat stunned his fellow peers when he dismissed a landmark report on the future of the historic environment as ‘a load of pants’.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Rubbish' can definitely be an adjective: the test is to search for "very rubbish". Now in the Google results for "very pants", only a small proportion of them are adjectival, but there are some, including this sporting one:

    Iker Casillas looking very much out of sorts, the defence struggling at set pieces and Cristiano Ronaldo still very pants indeed
     

    bennymix

    Senior Member
    Follow up after nine years: Is the word still common in BE, as in Collins Concise, meaning 'inferior'?

    I've never heard it in AE or CanE.

    Current BE example:

    I spent a day in Becks' kecks … and it was pants – The Sun

    Apr 4, 2016 - GET into Becks' kecks with our great giveaway. Ten readers will each win a three-pack of the David Beckham For H&M bodywear boxers, worth £19.99.
     
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    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Follow up after nine years: Is the word still common in BE, as in Collins Concise, meaning 'inferior'?

    I've never heard it in AE or CanE.
    That's probably because "pants" has a very different meaning in AE and CanE. In North America, "pants" are trousers, not underwear, and so the word does not have the same association with contact with less honorable body parts used for excretory functions.
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Follow up after nine years: Is the word still common in BE, as in Collins Concise, meaning 'inferior'?

    I've never heard it in AE or CanE.
    When Bart Simpson says, "Eat my shorts!" he is I believe inviting someone to eat his underwear. The equivalent phrase in BE would be, "Eat my pants!"

    There is a somewhat childish humour associated with 'pants' in BrE. Adult conversations are more likely to involve talking about briefs these days.

     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Follow up after nine years: Is the word still common in BE, as in Collins Concise, meaning 'inferior'?
    Yes, but I'd say "not good" or "bad" rather than "inferior", which needs a comparator. "My serve was pants" = "My serve was bad". "My serve was inferior"- to what?

    I don't know where Chasint is going here. The expression has nothing to do with Bart Simpson's underwear or childish humour. I've heard my 35-yr-old daughter use "pants" with this meaning.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    The Sun is a tacky tabloid, which can be read and understood by people with a reading age of five. I never thought that bit of trivia would come in useful. 'Pants' refers to underwear of course, male in this case.
    If you want to make a pun about Beck's kecks, 'pants' as dated slang for a load of rubbish/worthless item would come in useful.
    It's a pants pants pun in a pants paper.

    Hey Benny! What about 'kecks'? Different thread of course but that's a relatively new word to me. All those years in the convent, you know.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The Sun is a tacky tabloid, which can be read and understood by people with a reading age of five. I never thought that bit of trivia would come in useful. 'Pants' refers to underwear of course, male in this case.
    If you want to make a pun about Beck's kecks, 'pants' as dated slang for a load of rubbish/worthless item would come in useful.
    It's a pants pants pun in a pants paper.

    Hey Benny! What about 'kecks'? Different thread of course but that's a relatively new word to me. All those years in the convent, you know.
    Kecks is very old hat, Hermione.

    My father used to talk about a fine pair of kecks, back in the 50s, and it sounded dated then.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I note the alternate 'keks'; is that currently seen in BE?

    I wonder if AE 'khaks' for 'khakis'[pants] is related?
    Kecks definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
    I haven't heard "khaks" for "khakis". Collins says "kecks" is from "C19: from obsolete kicks breeches" where as khaki is named for the color (from an Urdu word for "dust").

    (A salesman in Barbados tried to sell me some cake-y trousers once. ;))
     
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