It’s time again for more fascinating facts, figures and folklore from that master of miscellany — the Answer Man.
Question: Why do we say “pair of pants” when referring to one garment?
Answer Man: Good question. This is one of those references we hardly ever think about. But it really is an odd thing to say. So why do we do it?
One theory suggests it’s because pants and shorts have two legs. But that can’t be it, because shirts have two sleeves and we don’t do the “pair of shirts” routine.
Mavens' Word of the Day says pants in the plural form is a North Americanism first recorded in 1840. The word is short for pantaloons, a term that originated with an Italian comedian who wore both stockings and breeches.
World Wide Words points out that these types of clothing (pants, underwear, shorts, tights) were originally made in two parts. One part for each leg, then belted in the middle, somewhat like chaps on cowboys. Over time, they ended up as one piece of clothing, but the habit of referring to the old “pair” persisted.
Another question, for another time, would be: Why do we say: “It’s cool out, I guess I’ll wear long pants
today.” Since pants are already long and shorts are short, why do we say that?
Question: Is the Beatles song Michelle about a specific person?
Answer Man: Wish we could give you a romantic, mysterious answer on that one, but, in fact, Paul McCartney, who wrote the song, went with Michelle simply because the name had a nice ring to it.
According to Song Facts, Jan Vaughan, the wife of a former bandmate and old friend, suggested the name to McCartney. Vaughan was a French teacher and Paul asked her for ideas for a French name and some lyrics to go with it. Vaughan rose to the occasion with “Michelle, ma belle.” McCartney then added, “These are words that go together well.” John Lennon suggested the “I love you” chorus. That’s how a hit is made.
Extra trivia at no extra charge: While Michelle wasn't written with any one person in mind, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds did have a real-life inspiration. Lennon wrote the song after his son Julian drew a picture of his friend Lucy O'Donnell. In the drawing, Lucy was flying in a sky full of — that’s right — diamonds.
Question: Why is it called, “rock and roll?”
Answer Man: Famed American radio DJ and concert producer, Alan Freed, is widely credited with coining the phrase in 1951. Freed led quite a life, bringing what we now call “rock and roll” to the masses. Sadly, he’s also infamous for his role in the payola scandal of the 1960s.
Several sources say that Freed got the term rock and roll from a group called The Dominoes, who used it in their hit song, Sixty Minute Man. The song’s rather suggestive lyrics apparently spoke to Freed. He soon began referring to rhythm and blues (R&B) as rock and roll on the air.
But what’s wrong with that already established phrase “rhythm and blues?” Why didn’t he just go along with that? The reason was race. In the early 1950s in the U.S., it was considered taboo for white people to listen to R&B, either in person or on the radio. In order to make it more acceptable, Freed gave what was essentially the same music a different name.
Question: Where did the phrase, “the birds and the bees,” come from?
Answer Man: Another puzzler with many suggested origins. But the one that seems to be the most popular gives credit to the great composer Cole Porter. One of his more famous songs was Let’s Do It. The 1928 standard contains the lyrics:
“Birds do it, bees do it
“Even educated fleas do it
“Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.”