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Pair of stairs
Posted: 03 September 2007 08:01 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Does this construction still get much use? I hardly ever see it in the UK. (Unless in connection with portable steps, as mentioned below.)

From OED

Pair, n1

9. a. A set or flight of stairs or steps; (also) a portable set of steps. Also fig.

The more recent use of pair of steps to denote a portable set of steps consisting of two joined halves aligns it with the senses in branch I. (see esp. sense 3).

There is a recent cite in OED from the US, which makes me wonder if perhaps it gets more use over that side of the pond.

1995 Daily News (N.Y.) (Nexis) 16 Oct. 20 The lines snaked around the block and down a pair of stairs, into a large exhibition hall.

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Posted: 03 September 2007 08:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This South Leftpondian has never heard the expression.  Were I to, I would assume it to mean two flights going up or down one story.

Edit:

In aldi’s example above that is what I would assume.  Otherwise it might could mean two separate flights of stairs each going all the way from one story to the next.

[ Edited: 03 September 2007 08:49 AM by Faldage ]
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Posted: 03 September 2007 09:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I haven’t heard of them either. We say stepladder (equal length, hinged) which is the key perhaps - you see ‘a pair of scissors’ but sometimes in older texts ‘a scissors’. Spectacles, pair of spectacles.
In Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds a character spots a hard-pressed minor Irish deity in a bush and says ‘it’s wearing a trousers’.

(Notice on school board: Someone has appropriated the school ladder. Unless these are returned immediately, further steps will be taken).

[ Edited: 03 September 2007 10:07 AM by venomousbede ]
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Posted: 03 September 2007 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I don’t recall ever hearing “a pair of stairs”; possibly it’s a regionalism?

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Posted: 03 September 2007 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Yes, I suspected that the most recent cite in OED was actually referring to two flights of stairs, but I could well be wrong. To be honest, I’ve only ever come across ‘pair of stairs’ to mean ‘flight of stairs’ in old books. I don’t think I’ve ever come across it in modern speech or writing.

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Posted: 03 September 2007 10:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Dr. Techie - 03 September 2007 10:18 AM

I don’t recall ever hearing “a pair of stairs”; possibly it’s a regionalism?

Interestingly, Pair, n1, II, 6, A set not limited to two in number is marked as regional by the OED.

6. A set of separate things or parts collectively forming a whole, as a set of clothes, a pack of cards, a chest of drawers, etc. Now chiefly Brit. regional and Irish English (north.)

J. FLETCHER & P. MASSINGER Sea Voy. (1647) II. i. 2, I ha nothing but my skinne, And my Clothes; my Sword here, and my self, Two Crowns in my Pocket; two paire of Cards; And three false Dice ............... 1894 R. O. HESLOP Northumberland Words s.v. Pair, ‘A pair (= chest) of drawers.’ ‘A pair of cards’… ‘A pair o’ pipes’… All these terms are in common general use. 1997 B. SHARE Slanguage 208/1 Pair of drawers,..(Ulster). Chest of drawers.

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Posted: 03 September 2007 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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In Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds a character spots a hard-pressed minor Irish deity in a bush and says ‘it’s wearing a trousers’.

The construction “a trousers”, “a scissors” etc. is definitely an Irishism; I’ve encountered it quite a lot in Irish literature and reported Irish speech. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in British English, archaic or modern.

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Posted: 03 September 2007 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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DARE gives a number of examples from the 1960’s from various US states, eastern, midwestern, southern (none from the far west at a glance).

The most common items treated in this way seem to be “pair [= flight] of stairs” and “pair [= string] of beads”.

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Posted: 03 September 2007 01:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Interesting; I too have never heard it, and I’m curious if it’s in anyone’s current vocabulary.  I’ve blogged it; it will be interesting to see what readers say.

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Posted: 03 September 2007 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’ve heard of a pair of stepladders (fairly recently, too), but not a pair of stairs.

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Posted: 04 September 2007 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The construction “a trousers”, “a scissors” etc. is definitely an Irishism; I’ve encountered it quite a lot in Irish literature and reported Irish speech. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in British English, archaic or modern.

Good point. I had assumed it was a joke or O’Brien horsing around with and/or mocking working-class Irish English speech not that I have ever been in a position to judge this! The hilarious pub talk of Messrs Shanahan, Furriskey and Lamont in that book has never been approached unless they all talk like that. Lord save us.

I haven’t heard them in British English either. You can say ‘the trousers’ or ‘the scissors’ but not ‘the breasts’ though ‘a pair of’ is OK in each case. ‘A nice pair’ is an example of a rhetorical device called Anthimeria I just found out from the Bywater book in a previous post ie using one word class for another.

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Posted: 04 September 2007 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Since “pair” and “breasts” are both the same part of speech (noun), that would not be anthimeria as defined by any source I could find.  Does your source really define it differently, or have you perhaps misunderstood?

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Posted: 04 September 2007 01:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The construction “a trousers”, “a scissors” etc. is definitely an Irishism

Also “a bollix*, though I’ve never heard “a tits” (aka “top bollocks” - a Barry McKenzieism originally) across the Irish Sea.

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Posted: 04 September 2007 03:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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"A scissors” is quite common in the US.

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Posted: 05 September 2007 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dr. Techie - 04 September 2007 11:17 AM

Since “pair” and “breasts” are both the same part of speech (noun), that would not be anthimeria as defined by any source I could find.  Does your source really define it differently, or have you perhaps misunderstood?

I have certainly misunderstood but what’s new? What is the term for an abbreviated phrase? Apocope?

“I breasted Dr T’s correction and emerged battered but intact.”

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Posted: 05 September 2007 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I know ‘a pair of steps’ and ‘a pair of ladders’ too, and for my sins I have even taught them in a list of ‘pair words’ to Germans. They are things in two parts that are joined at the top (not too sure if ‘bollix’ fits in here).

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