Free-Floating Hostility

Saturday, January 07, 2006


I've said it before and I'll say it again. The single worst word in the English language, the most foul, obscene, abhorrent, loathsome, contemptible, barbarous, heinous, unwholesome, appalling, insulting, sickening, and frightening word I have ever heard, is--I can hardly bear to type it--"panties."

It's not my own original insight. My senior year of high school I took a class in Political and Social Philosophy with Mr. H, a mild-mannered and brilliant anarchist who was so personally loveable and inspiring that I considered myself a communist from eighth through tenth grade. Mr. H was fond of us, fond of a good debate, and no fool about what happens in the last months of senior years, so toward the end of Spring the class discussions had a way of drifting off of Neitzsche and on to things like "what's the worst thing you can call someone." I believe this was the class during which we were discussing why there was no insult you could give a man even close to as cutting as "bitch." I mostly remember Mr. H saying he didn't think "whore" was that powerful cause you'd never say, "I can't believe you ran into my bumper you whore," which just proves Mr. H was never a woman. Anyway, somebody introduced the topic of "panties" and the room exploded as we interrupted each other, trying desperately to express our individual horrors. "Every time I hear it," said one of my classmates named Annie, "I picture an old man grabbing at the air and groaning Paaantieeees," at which we all agreed she had put it perfectly.

I actually feel nauseated when someone uses it. I think it's the pedophilic implications of it. Like it's a teasing way of saying "underpants." Lookie ookie and my panties wanties, I'm so cute in my ickle g-string, shall I call you Papa? And it's particularly unnecessary when there are lovely normal words for the garment in question. No one ever took offense at the word "underwear." If one feels that's evasive, "underpants" is also perfectly acceptable. "Drawers," though hardly polished, is at least not scary. "Knickers" would really be best, but there's not much point in pretending to be English if you're not. I will advocate for it's adoption over here if it ever comes up.

The very worst, obviously, is when the term is used by male doctors. Female doctors will nonchalantly let you know it's time to take off your underwear and then you have your pelvic exam while you chat about Desperate Housewives or similar. But male doctors, especially the young ones, will invariably ask you to "please slide down your panties now," their tone indicating that the three worst minutes of both your lives are about to commence. It makes me feel like I've just agreed to trade the young doctor a quickie and crabs for a carton of cigarettes and a ration of butter. It makes me want to yank on my clothes and run down the hall shouting "Attention everyone! The Chief Resident is a pervert!"

That is also, by the way, how you can tell the Victoria's Secret catalogue really is intended as pornography.

3 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at January 07, 2006 8:47 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I'd never thought about the matter, but I certainly will take your word for it. The sheds new insight on why Jerry's "You mean the panties your mother laid out for you?" remark failed so spectacularly as bawdy talk.

    I do have to disagree about one thing though: sometimes it's fun to pretend to be English when you're really not.

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at January 12, 2006 9:26 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Okay that's so weird. You're only the second person I know who can't stand that word. Maybe it's an East Coast thing? Hmmm. Anyway, since you are in California, let me offer up another alternative: "chones".
    See you on the train!

  •   Posted by Blogger Anna at January 13, 2006 3:57 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I looked this up, and Ada is right. I will try out chones for a while as an alternative to knickers.

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