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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 09:43 GMT
Pile of pants: Off the street into the office

pile of pants, noun, slang, official term of rejection. Relatively new non-swearing slang term, meaning a load of rubbish or, indeed, knickers. Pants in this sense (NB not trousers as in the US; in the UK pants means underwear) only became slang in the 1990s (according to slang lexicographer Jonathon Green). Became official term of rejection even more recently (see below). Popular with students and DJs.

USAGE: Letter rejecting asylum seeker's case, from a Home Office official, December 2000: "With regard to your claim to be a national of Afghanistan, the Secretary of State thinks that this is a pile of pants."

USAGE 2: Pants is also a popular word for laddish advertisements: Pete and Johnny smoothies slogan - Christmas is pants, and brewer Shepherd Neame slogan - German beer is pants.

NB CAUTION 1: Home Office apologised for using the phrase, and said it had been a mistake, not a joke.

NB CAUTION 2: Whether or not the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, personally said the applicant's claim was a pile of pants may well become irrelevant. The phrase will doubtless become a stock taunt for him; when anything goes wrong for him or his department, it will be called "a pile of pants" by critics. Politicians' use of the demotic (ie. street language) was championed by former Conservative minister Chris Patten, who routinely used words like porkies, gobsmacked, and double whammy. The latter was used to deride him after the 1992 general election when he lost both his cabinet position and his seat as MP for Bath.

(Reader A Whewell adds: I'd like to point out that in the UK the word "pants" does not universally mean underwear. Where I come from in the Northwest it means trousers. In fact in most of the English speaking world it means trousers. As far as I can tell confusing pants with underpants is just a Midlands / Southern England thing.)

(Reader J Currid adds: I suspect that reader A Whewell is confusing his pants with his kecks. I'm 27 and have lived in Bolton all that time. To my knowledge "pants" has always had its alternative 'underpants' meaning, there, and "a pile of pants" was common parlance at school. Particularly in history.)

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