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I came across the phrase “get one’s pants off” impossibly in association with Confucius analects in the following sentence which I found in a website, but forgot to jot down the source:

What kind of leadership will help to restore the credibility of our financial institutions? Perhaps we should try to listen to Confucius. No, he didn’t say, “If you keep your feet on the ground, you can’t get your pants off ”. But many of the things he did say are about what it takes to be a leader who wins respect while getting things done.

Although I found definitions of “take (your) pants off” in urban dictionary and “getting her pants off” in www. theatraction forum, I wasn’t able to find the definition of “get one’s pants off” in any major dictionaries. However, Google NGram Viewer shows growing incidences of this phrase since its emergence in 1925 and temporary drop-down of usage during 1955 through 1965.

It’s possible to interpret “If you keep your feet on the ground, you can’t get your pants off” in the context of leadership in restoring credibility of financial institutions in either way: (1) If you keep your feet firmly on the ground, you’ll never be perplexed, or (2) If you stick to the status quo, you’ll never make any change (or take an action). I don’t know which way I should take it. Perhaps there would be other ways of interpretation.

Though I don’t think I can use this phrase in front of ladies, is this a popular phrase, or a simple slang which is rarely used?

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I think it's just a metaphor and neither an idiom nor slang. Taking your pants off requires that you lift your feet from the ground, one at a time. I don't know what the writer means by "If you keep your feet on the ground", however, unless it means not making any changes in policy or behavior. –  user21497 Oct 22 '12 at 23:26
    
Not to be confused with the expression, "keep your pants on!" which means "don't be so impatient!" –  Kristina Lopez Oct 23 '12 at 5:05
    
If you want a related idiom, I'm gonna blow your socks off! –  SF. Oct 23 '12 at 6:39
    
"get your pants off" doesn't elicit any kind of connection with a proverb. It could refer to either literally the ability to do that particular act (a pants leg can't be removed with a foot in that position) or it could be a subtle hint towards disrobing, which might be a little risque. As the context does not follow up on the risque element, it's unclear what is intended. But the disrobing element is still there so probably best to avoid unless one wants a very mild sense that is eye-brow raising. –  Mitch Mar 15 '13 at 17:51
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It should be noted that in British English pants refer to underwear not the outer garments. –  donothingsuccessfully Mar 15 '13 at 18:36
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2 Answers 2

Bill Franke has it right. The sentence simply means that if you keep your feet on the ground, then it is impossible for you to remove your pants.

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More precisely: that's what the full sentence means. The specific phrase in question just means "remove one's pants". –  ruakh Oct 23 '12 at 0:02
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The quotation in question is a joke proverb.

Proverbs are often humorous. Here are two examples, one involving "If you keep your feet on the ground":

If you keep your feet on the ground, you can't fall very far.

If the rich could hire other people to die for them, the poor could make a wonderful living.

These proverbs are sincerely presented as insights, but also incorporate wordplay.

A joke proverb, by contrast, is purely humorous. Some joke proverbs use the same kind of wordplay as a straight proverb but describe an absurd situation instead of the Human Condition. Others, like the example you found, open like a proverb, but conclude in a way that can't be interpreted metaphorically.

Recognizing a joke proverb requires confidence that one would know a real proverb on sight. For one learning a second language, it's natural to think that it's one's own failure to understand.


The (dis)association with Confucius refers to the unfortunate fact that, shortly after the mass Chinese immigration which coincided with the construction of the intercontinental railroad, white Americans got in the habit of corrupting the grammar of joke proverbs and falsely attributing them to Confucius. A typical example:

A man who runs in front of a car gets tired. A man who runs behind a car gets exhausted.

becomes

Confucius say, "Man who run in front of car get tired. Man who run behind car get exhausted."

Presenting proverb jokes in this form is disrespectful in two ways. First, by making Confucius a figure of absurdity, the people who respect him are also made to seem absurd. Second, it is a common and vexing practice of racists to mock descendants of immigrants by making sport out of their ancestors' difficulties, real or imagined, with English. (In a related case, the difficulty distinguishing "L" and "R" which afflicts you with occasional embarrassment has been the subject of generations of harassment against descendants of Japanese immigrants.)

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