Unmentionables, trousers coughs, and words for the riotously drunk: the December 2021 update to the HTOED

Unmentionables, trousers coughs, and words for the riotously drunk: the December 2021 update to the HTOED

Pants, kecks, rammies, trews, unmentionables… These are just a few of the words in the Historical Thesaurus of the OED (HTOED) category trousers, which usefully complements the newly revised OED entry trousers as a source for understanding and investigating the way people have referred to this type of garment over the centuries.  Within the category trousers are numerous subcategories for particular types, and the one with the longest history is breeches (short trousers fastened just below the knee): breeches dates back to Old English, followed by synonyms such as femorals, hose, strossers, strouses, and trousies. A garment resembling breeches with stockings attached was denoted in the 16th and 17th centuries by trews, trouse, and an early sense of trousers; and then at the end of the 17th century we find the first uses of the word trousers in the now familiar sense ‘an outer garment covering the body from the waist to the ankles, with a separate part for each leg’, and thus the main category trousers begins in earnest.

Looking at the category trousers we can also investigate patterns in the way the concept has been expressed in English. For example, there is a particularly large lexicon for trousers in the late 18th and 19th centuries, especially euphemisms such as inexpressibles, unmentionables, indescribables, ineffables, never-mention-’ems, unwhisperables, and unutterables, alluding, often humorously, to the attitudes of the time (as expressed in this use of unmentionables in 1791: “Mrs Montague declared they [sc. leather breeches] were truly and properly to be called unmentionables, as the prudes of the age had titled them”). A different type of semantic motivation can be seen in the category trousers > types of > made from specific material, which includes nankeens, cords, flannels, moleskins, chinos, and dungarees: with some of these words the garment sense has become much more common than the fabric sense.

The OED entries for trousers and related words can also lead us into quite different parts of HTOED. The new entries trouser burp and trouser cough are the most recent additions to the category fart or belch, which also includes such delights as ventosity and the euphemistic escape (both first used in the 16th century in this sense), and various onomatopoeic formations such as rap (a1475)and poot (1899). Meanwhile, the newly added sense trousered meaning ‘drunk’ expands what is already one of HTOED’s largest categories, drunk, which contains over 200 words: from Old English fordrunken through to late 20th century coinages such as wazzed, mullered, twatted, bollocksed, and – now – trousered. And that’s just the main category drunk: if 200 or so synonyms aren’t enough for your needs, there are many more specific terms in subcategories such as partially drunk, riotously drunk, and completely or very drunk.

For more solid sustenance, we can turn to the HTOED categories chips and crisps, which have also been revised this update alongside the revision of the OED entry chip. The category chips (with words denoting pieces of potato fried in oil and eaten hot) begins with potato chips in 1854 (there is a slightly earlier use of potato chip in a different sense, ‘a thin sliver or slice of sweet potato’), then simply chips, French fried potatoes (1856), and French fries (1902). The category crisps (with words denoting very thin slices of potato fried until crisp) begins slightly later with Saratoga chips in 1871, potatoes prepared in this way having been a speciality of Saratoga Springs, a summer resort in New York State. Simple chips and potato chips in this sense follow, then the chiefly British crisps and potato crisps in the 1920s – like French fries, these terms probably arose due to a need for distinguishing terms, given the different senses of chips and potato chips in different varieties of English. More generally in the prepared potatoes category we find words for the many dishes in which the humble potato has been used over the years, from mash, hash browns, rösti, aloo chaat, shoestrings, and potato latkes, to the newly added tater tots and tots. Bon appétit!

In total, HTOED links have been added to over 3,200 senses in this update, with a particular focus on:

  • Entries and senses added to the OED this update: e.g. there are HTOED links at new additions such as bird’s egg, bird-spotting, career path, Dark and Stormy, endarkened, gig work, kettle chips, kiss chase, nail bar, reputationally, shepherd’s hut, thrashcore, Tibetic, and many more,in addition to the new entries and senses noted above;
  • Senses current in Early Modern English (c. 1550-1700);
  • High-frequency subentries: e.g. there are now HTOED links at subentries such as art therapy, authority figure, brain surgery, cash machine, freight train, light switch, public speaker, and red onion.

For more information about HTOED and its uses, see this guide.

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