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I've always referred to a shirt that has short sleeves as a "short sleeve" shirt. However, I've also heard it be referred to as a "shirt sleeve" shirt or "wearing shirt sleeves." This seems like a mistake and counter-intuitive: the shirt has less of a sleeve than usual so why refer to it as a "shirt sleeve" shirt when that's the very thing that's missing?!
I would appreciate your input on the popularity of one phrase over the other and the logic/origin behind the "shirt sleeves" term.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 25 down vote accepted

There is a difference in the meanings; to be "in shirt sleeves" means that your shirt sleeves (long or short) are exposed - so you're not wearing a jacket, jumper or coat over the top (apart from a waistcoat of course). Like you, I've heard one or two people confuse the terms, but according to the Cambridge dictionary, among others, being in shirt sleeves does not imply short sleeves.

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Both terms are correct usage, but they have different meanings.

Short-sleeve(d) shirts are, as you would guess, shirts with short sleeves. To wear short sleeves is to wear a short-sleeved shirt.

To dress in shirtsleeves, on the other hand, means to wear no layer over your shirt - no jacket, coat, etc. "Shirtsleeve weather" would, by this logic, be weather that's warm enough not to necessitate layers.

The word "shirtsleeves" also has a general connotation of informality - particularly in older novels, seeing someone "in just his shirtsleeves" implies that he wasn't fully/properly dressed.

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That's very strange. The most likely explanation is that /ʃɜːt/ (shirt) is a variant - or mistaken - pronunciation of /ʃɔːt/ (short).

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I would have said the same, but I see now that this is wrong. You can delete this post to take it off the table, if you wish. –  Daniel Oct 5 '11 at 0:56

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