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Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

Words and Their Meanings: "Underwear"

At some point, probably in the 1980s, Americans began to concern ourselves less with using words accurately, favoring instead the far less restrictive practice of saying things however we wanted to say them. It's much more fun, and doesn't require the amount of tedious thinking required to communicate clearly using words for their intended purposes.

Take, for example, the word "underwear." Those of us who are sticklers might notice that it is a hybrid of two words: "under" (meaning beneath) and "wear" (meaning clothing). We tiresome old literalists might therefore conclude that "underwear" is to be worn in such a way that renders it invisible to the public. And yet, we have a generation of young men and women doing just the opposite, and doing it with great self-assurance, confident that their underwear was meant to be displayed. Young black men in particular seem determined to display their entire butts (barely obscured by the merest slips of cloth) above the waistlines of their pants ("waistline" being yet another word that might suggest guidance as to the proper placement of the garment). Not only is this aesthetically unforgivable, it also renders the word "underwear" meaningless.

The alleged history of this look isn't a glamorous one. Prisoners, before they're locked up, are deprived of several items of clothing that could be used as weapons, including shoelaces and belts. As a result, their trousers are prone to sag. According to lore, the look gained popularity outside of prison as a way of showing toughness, suggesting that the wearer has spent time in the big house. Somehow, this led to an utterly unconscionable fashion trend, with teens who have never even cheated on a math test walking around with their pants at their knees. On second thought, the word "walking" might not summon the most accurate mental picture, as this strange misuse of a perfectly good garment forces the wearer to hobble along, constantly tugging at the empty belt loops so as to avoid tripping on the fabric that drags along the ground. My, what style!

We, the involuntary witnesses to this foolish-looking trend are prone to feel both disgusted and disrespected. These reactions are understandable When someone shows such disregard for others as to not bother getting fully dressed before going out, sticking his ass out to the world as it were, it can feel like a personal affront.

The Spanish word for eyeglasses is a charming one, "anteojos." Literally, it means "before the eyes." And that's where they go. Wristwatches go on the wrist. Pocket squares go in the pocket. Necklaces go around the neck. And underwear belongs under our clothing.

Words and their meanings: it's almost like having a vast collection of specific tools with which to communicate specific ideas.

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