English is tricky. A pair of scissors, or just scissors, while made with two pieces would cease to exist if they were taken apart. It would become two blades. So why are they a pair? This became my quest this morning, and it proved rather difficult to answer.
A pair of eyeglasses makes sense since you could say it is made with two pieces of eyeglass paired together. But then that idea falls apart when you call them spectacles. So what’s the deal with all these plural words for singular things? I did learn that these words are referred to as pluralia tantum. (which in itself is the pural of plurale tantum) It’s Latin, obviously, meaning a word that has no singular variant no matter how many objects it refers to.
“Hand me those scissors”, or “hand me those eighteen scissors”. It sounds a little odd to say “hand me that scissors” so I guess that’s where we throw in “pair of” to smooth it out. (oh, and no matter which way you say it, don’t forget “please”)
None of this explains why we say pair of scissors, though. I still don’t know that one. Throughout history nothing has existed that could be a singular scissor. I did, however, get some answers when I turned to pants. It’s the same deal. Why a pair of pants? Sure it has two legs, but if you seperate them they are no longer functional pants.
At least I found an origin for this one. Pants were a pair right from their first appearance in the early 15th century. It was due to the evolution of hosen. In medieval times nobody wore pants, as robes and tunics were all the rage. I can imagine in northern Europe some of the breezes would have been rather uncomfortable. Enter hosen, the knee length sock.
Over a few hundred years, the hosen gradually crept up the leg, getting higher and higher, until they eventually joined at the crotch and became a single piece. However, the language didn’t evolve, and the plural hosen remained, despite it’s singular subject. Thus pants, trousers, and even the more illogical “pair of underwear” (since it doesn’t even have two legs to worry about).
So the “pair of pants” thing is another loose end of evolution. Some pioneers like Clinton from TV’s What Not To Wear are on a mission to popularize the singular “pant”, but I’m not buying it. Just to spite him, not only do I proudly sport my pair of trousers, but some of them are old and ought to be thrown out. So there.
I still have no clue about the scissors.