Every month or so, I receive a glossy coupon from Victoria's Secret in my mailbox. "Free panty!" it beckons. "No purchase necessary!"
Reading those words, I cringe a little bit. Not because I hate underwear—I'm an ardent lover of underwear. It's because I hate the word "panty." I hate the plural form of "panty" as well. "Panties" creeps me out.
And apparently I'm not alone. In addition to a slew of blog posts and message boards denouncing the word, The Huffington Post's Zoë Triska named it "the worst word ever." Cracked.com included "panties" in its list of the "Five Words That Need To Be Banned From English."
Why does the word "panties" bother so many people?
Sure, when said within the confines of a lingerie store, by an older saleswoman with a tape measure around her neck and glasses slipping down her nose, it's fine: "Did you see the black underwire has the matching panty?" But taken out of this context, the word "panty" can be grimace-inducing—and there are a few possible reasons for that.
I've heard several people refer to the word as "infantilizing." The addition of the suffix "-ies" (or in the singular form, "-y") converts the word into a diminutive. Literally: "little pants." The suffix puts it in the same category as "booties" and "blankies"—words often associated with small children. In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known use of "panties" is from a 1908 set of instructions for making doll clothes. "The undergarment is ... easily made, for the little waist and panties are cut in one piece." Women, it seems, would rather not shimmy into a garment whose name would also suggest they are shimmying into a pair of knee socks and saddle shoes and handed an oversized lollipop.