There are quite a few examples of American verbal colonisation in the Australian vocabulary but some of them irk me more than others.
Who gave the Yanks the right to change the fundamental meaning of “underwear”?
When I was growing up the term referred to a vast array of garments worn by women and men under their outer garments. For the chaps there were singlets and undershirts, underpants of various kinds and socks. Yes, socks are considered undergarments.
Longjohns and thermals were available to members of either gender.
The women had access to a panoply of garments: slips, half-slips, petticoats, girdles, panty girdles, corsets, bustiers, camisoles, stockings (and with them garter belts), pantihose, socks, knicker bockers, pantiloons and lastly and basically brassieres and… well this is where it all falls apart, isn’t it. In my family they were called knickers, in others it was girls’ undies and in America, apparently, they were panties.
Now at some point during the much needed feminist shake up of society, the Americans decided that “panties” had some kind of chauvinistic connotation and it had to be changed. So they opted for “underwear”. That’s right, those silly seppos decided that a worthy word that covered a huge range of garments worn under the outer garb should be strangled and beaten until it just referred to an article of clothing worn solely by women (in the regular course of events) to cover their vulva and bottom. I do recognise that in some instances it covers more than that, such as parts of the stomach and legs.
Now the garment industry has added their two-bobs worth to the discussion as well. Venture into any of the range of stores that sell such items and you will discover that the rag trade calls most of them briefs. There are full briefs, semi briefs, hi-cut (sic) briefs, bikini briefs, boy-leg briefs and quite probably others I’ve missed. There are also others not referred to as briefs per se, but rather by a letter followed by the word string.
The point is that the term “brief” has never caught on in the Australian vernacular, and I doubt it ever will. On the other hand I urge Australians not to accept the example of American Cultural Imperialism that is their use of the word “underwear”. in such a limited form.
It is my view that as a reflection of our egalitarian style, all Australians should refer to the garment covering the nether regions of both women and men as “undies”. That is my contribution to Australia Day 2014.