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Meditation in Brief(s)

There’s a funny riff on Language Log about women’s underwear, woven into a longer meditation about whitey-tighty and its variants:

“[(]There are bikini briefs made for women, though the line, if there is one, between these and panties is unclear to me. Sometimes I think that bikini briefs are just panties for men. Hey, I wear them myself, and have for decades. I’m not criticizing guys in bikini briefs.)”

I say this gently, and hope I do not offend, but it is clear Mr. Zwicky has never worn women’s underwear.

Women’s underwear has many variations, including bikini briefs, high-cut (also known, I believe, as French leg; the waist is higher than bikini briefs), boy-cut (with squared-off legs, not to be worn by anyone with any BMI index to begin with), thongs (which mystify me completely; who wants a day-long wedgie?), and just plain old briefs, which go up to the waist and will definitely show if you are wearing slacks with a remotely fashionable waistline. But bikini brief is not a synonym for women’s underwear, at least in the crowds I run in.

The term “panty” is a little iffier: sometimes plain, sometimes racy. I have heard nurses say I could leave my panties on (though not my hat). On the other hand, “panty” gets yoked by violence with “line” (that sometimes-crude, sometimes-alluring demarcation of a lady’s undergarments), “raid” (another reason I’m glad I attended women’s colleges), and “waist,” an old-fashioned synonym for wimp, wuss, or as we said in the Air Force (at least in the women’s barracks), sissy-la-la.

Note that “Underpants”–a term I rarely hear in reference to adult undergarments–is an inherently amusing word, q.v. Captain Underpants, who would just not be as humorous if he were Captain Tighty Whitey. If I say I’m running around in a torn t-shirt and old underpants, I’m funny. If I say I’m in a chemise and lace bikini briefs, it’s a whole ‘nuther riff, until you dwell on the prospect of a scantily-clad middle-aged librarian in trifocals. Context, there, becomes everything.

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