So this is Christmas? I must say that this Christmas was probably more enjoyable than recent years past. No one argued. No one threw punches or food. No one stormed out and drove home. (Though my father is sleeping in his car tonight. But it's just out of appreciation for tradition.)
The lack of friction around the table this year made me realize that I often hear people talk about their dysfunctional families' holidays, but I never hear anyone talk about their functional families' holidays. I think it's about time that the June Cleavers and Donna Reeds of the world speak up. Is Nixon's "silent majority" too busy enjoying the holiday season with their sweater vests and sober relatives to tell the rest of us that we're screwed up? Or are they just smart enough to lay low, lest they find themselves co-starring on a very special holiday edition of Cops with my father?
I even enjoyed a better than average gifting this year. The only thing I asked for was socks, but in addition to the socks, I also received 12 pairs of underwear and a fog machine. Wowee! I'd say it was "like Christmas," except for the fact that it actually was Christmas. In this case, my extensive mental inventory of useful sarcastic cliches has let me down, leaving me grasping for words with which to describe the event. (Sarcasm just can't be used to describe satisfaction.)
The 12 pairs of underwear made me wonder about why we call them "pairs" of underwear. A quick internet search reveals that back in the day, only nobility wore anything over the coverings of their genitals, so there was technically no such thing as "underwear" until the last few centuries. (Unless, of course, you were hanging out in a royal court wearing a codpiece or tunic.) Modern legged outerwear evolved from two, unattached leggings (a pair of hose, to be precise) to become the single garment that we now call "a pair of pants." As I understand it, the word "pants" evolved from the word "pantaloons," a type of legged, female underskirt garment designed to cover their highly coveted naughty bits. This would make "pairs of underwear" a vestigial etymological remnant of a bygone wardrobe in our lexicon.
Note that since "pants" originated as a type of underwear, modern outerwear "pants" should properly be referred to as "trousers" since "pants" is specifically derivative of a type of undergarment and "trousers" are outerwear for the legs. This appears to be yet another difference in American and British English languages. They get it right, whereas we American's don't care what you call it so long as you can't see our legs.
It turns out that "men's cotton briefs," such as I received for Christmas, weren't even invented until the 1930s in Chicago, Illinois. Named for the 20th century male undergarment called a "jockstrap," they were designed and sold by a company which would later adopt their brand name as the company name: Jockey.
Now, all this thinking of underwear has reminded me of an editorial that I once wrote to the University of Georgia's student newspaper, The Red and Black. I took the opportunity to satirize the University community's overreaction to one editorial cartoon by criticizing another by my classmate Mack Williams (now an accomplished animator for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim program Frisky Dingo). What does this have to do with underwear, you ask? Simple: "culottes," a French underwear that appears to be a cross between a skirt and shorts. I quote from one of the many, many responses to my letter:
First we had someone decrying Williams' Feb. 26 cartoon as an insult to the soldiers who fought at Iwo Jima, when it should have been plainly obvious such an insult was not the cartoonist's intent. Now we've got someone with his culottes in a bunch over Williams' portrayal of poodles in a subsequent cartoon ("Poodles not often angry or mean dogs," Feb. 28). Poodles! Come down off the ledge, Stephens, and understand that the poodle in that cartoon was a symbol for something else -- the cartoon was not about poodles any more than it was about bulldogs or people with facial hair.
The full text can be read from the archives of The Red and Black online. The event played out in the editorial pages' "Mailbox" from February 28 through March 3, 2003. The highlight of the affair for me was this dialogue exchanged in the online feedback section:
I am stunned at how many people have been writing in about the initial poodle letter. I know Americans are supposed to be irony-free, but this is ridiculous. The letter was satirizing the Iwo Jima complaints. Come on, people, show that you deserve to be at college.
Which received the following response:
He wasn't satirizing anything, it was written by a mixed up old secretary who has his priorities all mixed up. Not everyone is as clever as you think they are.
Now THAT is satisfying journalism.
Hmm. I seem to be rambling. It must be the effects of too much cranberry sauce, Hershey's Christmas Kisses, sweet tea, pound cake, Coca-Cola, and Klondike Bars. I suppose the point of all of this rambling is that I associate 17th century women's underwear with poodles. (But I don't endorse putting poodles into women's underwear. That's just weird.)