A recent conversation with my two year old daughter.

D: my pants are called Nicola.

Me: sorry?

D: (who hates it when I don’t understand exactly what she is talking about.) My pants are called NICOLA!

Me: No darling, Ben’s mum is called Nicola.

D: (now infuriated at my slovenly grasp of the English language)  NO, MY PANTS ARE CALLED NICOLA!

Me: (pausing to figure out this latest piece of two year old logic) Do you mean, your pants are called knickers?


Me: Of course. Silly me, you make perfect sense, I should have no difficulty translating your malapropisms and toddlerisms.

But, knickers? I can only assume this is a word she’s picked up at nursery, because in our house they’re pants. Hers, mine, her brother’s and Unhusband’s (but we won’t go there.) I’ve never felt the need to use different terminology for male and female underwear.  Much as I love words, there are some pieces of vocabulary that make me want to heave and knickers is one of them.  In case you’re wondering, I also have a particular aversion to moist (vile) scrummy (oh, please) blouse (it’s a shirt)   And my pet hate: twinkle (when used outside the nursery rhyme) – but I won’t go on about that again.

I realise to thousands, possibly millions of people, knickers is about as normal as saying T-shirt, or toothbrush. But for me, it conjures up images of big, billowy, lacy things, blowing on the line; of elderly aunts, and condescending males who uses phrases like: don’t get your knickers in a twist … keep your knickers on … the same males who talk about big girls’ blouses.

Pants on the other hand are affirming, down-to-earth, impartial.  They cover a multitude of possibilities (and arses) and do away with complicated technicalities like  G-strings, garters, bikinis, briefs, low rise shorts and thongs – which are just confusing if you’re an Australian, and pants on feet aren’t a good look.

The great thing about pants, is not only do they keep your nethers warm, they can also be used as an adjective – like for example when bollocks isn’t quite appropriate. This weather is pants, work is pants, this book is pants …. Or just: pants!

Forget knickers, I’m sticking to pants. Or maybe to keep my daughter happy, I should start calling them Nicola.  Would that make the boy version Nicolas?

What do you call them? Do any words make you want to heave?







About Becky Dickinson

Mum of three. Writer, blogger, grower. Trying to keep my head above the compost heap.

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  1. Only problem with ‘pants’ is a similar one to the word ‘fanny’ on your earlier post: to the Americans it means a different item of clothing.

    Really, I don’t mind either word, for a girl they’re fairly interchangeable (and when on jury service in a rape case the barristers used the word ‘knickers’ to refer to the victim’s underwear.) Find the word ‘panties’ a bit babyish though.

    In the book I’m writing at the moment a 7 year old girl refers to her male cousin’s pants as ‘knickers’ simply because that’s what she call hers and she sees no reason to change it for a boy.

    • Hello – yes, good point about the US, I guess I’m talking about pants with an English accent, not to be confused with the trouser variety!
      And yes, I hate the word panties even more than I hate the word knickers….Perhaps underwear would be a better term in rape cases though as I don’t think this really has any connotations.

  2. Andrea says:

    I’m reading Game of Thrones at the moment. The characters in that book refer to their underwear as ‘smallclothes’, whether they are male or female. I’m thinking of adopting this – it’s much better than nay of the words the English language currently has to offer! (However, it might be stretching a point for me to claim my pants are small…)

  3. Andrea says:


  4. Lorna Claydon says:

    Over here, where pants can be confused with trousers, they are referred to as “undies” for boys and girls which I like. Grundy Undies for grey days, Sunday Undies for parties, spare undies, his undies, her undies.
    It works for me.
    I notice in your list of words for burning ( I call them Miranda Words) you failed to mention the word flaps – even on a tent, flaps seems indecent. Just a thought

  5. Joe Green says:

    I think your daughter is onto something there. Let’s all start calling them nicolas (as in plural nicola).

    The mention of smallclothes reminds me that I have heard them called smalls. Usually as in “washing my smalls”.


  1. lady stage says:

    lady stage

    Pants or knickers? What do you call them?

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