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In the latest chapter (100作品目) of この美術部には問題がある! there’s a wordplay episode based on different meanings of パンツ. One character uses it in the sense of pants (trousers) but another understands it as panties (underwear).

In the process of clearing up the misunderstanding they seem to imply that there’s a specific way of pronouncing the word when it means “pants”:

っていうか パ(↑)ンツです 

ズボンです ズボン

Some of the comments on ニコニコ静画 also mention different readings, but the opinions seem to differ:

パ⤴️ンツなら下着じゃね?

ズボンじゃなくてパ(↑)ンツ。パンツじゃなくてショーツな。

パ(→)ン(↑)ツじゃねぇの?

発音1ではなく0

So, is different pronunciations of this word actually a thing or there’s no difference and it was simply added for comical effect? And if there’s a difference, what’s the correct way?

この美術部にはもんだいがある!100作品目②

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Yes, パンツ【HLL】 tends to refer to underwear, and パンツ【LHH】 tends to refer to trousers. パンツ in Japanese traditionally referred to only the former, and the latter is a relatively recent usage initially used in the apparel industry (cf. words borrowed twice). If I understand correctly, younger or fashion-conscious people tend to distinguish between these pronunciations strictly, while middle-aged and older generations tend to just use ズボン.

For some words, 平板 accent indicates a newer meaning of a word. See アクセントの平板化: Are there any rules to the intonations they are discussing in this video?

EDIT: There is no standard rule to use arrows for accent notation, and which pattern パ(↑)ンツ refers to is not clear to me (of course it can be understood from the context). The person who wrote パ(↑)ンツなら下着じゃね must have thought it denoted パンツ【HLL】. 発音1ではなく0 is technically correct, but I think most native speakers don't understand what this means.

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  • when you say "平板 accent indicates a newer meaning of a word", do you mean for a borrowed word? Or for any word, including native 大和言葉? Sep 20 at 22:26
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    All the examples I have for now are loanwords (ネット, クラブ, ライン, パンツ), but I think there is no reason in principle that this must be restricted to loanwords. Simple 平板化 without changing the meaning are common with yamato kotoba (see this research).
    – naruto
    Sep 20 at 22:59

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