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There has been much ado about the specific clothing, furniture, and products in the hit AMC series Mad Men. Of course, fans love the accurate details. The afternoon cocktails and elaborate dresses are a constant reminder of how much has changed in the 50 years since the 1960s. The show gets the set right, but what about the dialogue? How does their accuracy apply to language? Not so well, it seems.

There are two straightforward methods to tease out the anachronisms. One compares the dialogue in Mad Men to the books published in the ’60s; the other compares the dialogue in Mad Men to the dialogue in television shows and movies in the ’60s, like the Twilight Zone and Dr. Strangelove. Obviously, neither is a perfect measure. A journal entry or letter written during the era might better capture the actual words that people used, but we do not have all the letters from the ’60s conveniently digitized. So these are the best methods available.

Benjamin Schmidt, a graduate student in intellectual history, has studied this in-depth. Schmidt recently assembled a useful diagram of phrases used in Mad Men that do not appear in books written during that time. The outliers on his diagram show the anachronistic phrases. Some phrases, like espresso beans and safety protocol, did not enter common English parlance until the ’70s or later.

The most striking out-of-place word, though, is “pantyhose.” Early in the show, pantyhose appeared in Peggy’s apartment, and fashion mavens quickly pointed out that pantyhose were not worn in the 1960s. The language problem, though, is that the word “pantyhose” was not even used. The word was not used until after 1966 and not regularly until the 1970s. Don Draper correctly uses the word nylons which dates back to 1940. But Peggy and other characters incorrectly refer to their stockings as pantyhose.

In fact, in the final episode of the fourth season, a large story line focuses on Peggy acquiring her first account with Topaz pantyhose. In the interview with the potential client, Peggy says, “I can wear Topaz pantyhose with anything. I’m wearing them now, and I’ll change everything but my hose before I go out tonight.” She even proposes as a potential tag line: “Topaz – the only pair of pantyhose you’ll ever need. Bad for business, good for you.” The writers got one thing right. Topaz was an actual brand of nylons in the 1960s, but they weren’t called pantyhose. They were called stockings.

Does this poor word choice shade your perspective of the show and its accuracy?

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150 Comments

  1. Jesusa Drisdelle -  June 1, 2012 - 4:46 pm

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    Reply
  2. Erik H. -  April 15, 2012 - 7:48 pm

    Well written
    Mrs. B: Mrs. B on March 25, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest attestation of ‘Panti Hose’ is from 1959 in McCalls.
    Read more at http://hotword.dictionary.com/madmen/#pmcJs1xZV2P2FMay.99

    and
    Vanessa:
    Vanessa on March 25, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Life Magazine: October 11, 1963, Page 60: Topaz advertisement includes Panti-Hose. They had a store in NYC at 19 West 36 Street. The advertisement also says, “Look for a complete wardrobe of Topaz Stockings, Panti-Hose, Tights, and Lycra Support Stockings” at [a list of] other stores offering their products (including Macy’s).
    I think the real question is: Who fact-checks the blogs written here?
    To the writer of this blog, I think it would be worth your effort to do your own due diligence before trying to mar the credibility of the writing for one of the finest shows on TV.
    Read more at http://hotword.dictionary.com/madmen/#pmcJs1xZV2P2FMay.99

    Thank you. :)

    Reply
  3. Engaged -  March 28, 2012 - 9:02 am

    @Mackenzie.. mercedes kenz! i love it! Classic..

    Reply
  4. mary torres so uncuffed -  March 27, 2012 - 2:52 pm

    i have bin in the friend zone for a lond time too

    Reply
  5. Kate -  March 27, 2012 - 11:11 am

    OMG … It’s hilarious to read so many so-called informed readers’ comments. I used to borrow my sisters’ pantyhose and that was in 1965. I would have preferred to wear a garter belt and black stockings, but my Mother explained … “only bad girls wore those.” Let’s fast forward to Victoria Secret’s product line where all women can be “bad” girls and thank God that we live in times where we can wear what we want and not give a flying flip to nay Sayers and hypocrits. Google Gloria Steinem for some eye-opening history on the feminist movement. I wonder what her take is on Mad Men …

    Reply
  6. iris -  March 27, 2012 - 10:25 am

    I am delighted to see any fairly decent scripted non reality show that television writers in 2012 can come up with …Castle ,Harry’s Law,Good Wife … and yes Mad men …at least there is a semblance of thought and fictional creativity …p.s.I remember wearing pantyhose and tights in the 60′s ……

    Reply
  7. Megan Murphy (mrmurp02) | Pearltrees -  March 27, 2012 - 6:14 am

    [...] What's the word problem at the heart of Mad Men? | The Hot Word | Hot & Trending Words Daily Blo… Benjamin Schmidt, a graduate student in intellectual history, has studied this in-depth. Schmidt recently assembled a useful diagram of phrases used in Mad Men that do not appear in books written during that time. The outliers on his diagram show the anachronistic phrases. [...]

    Reply
  8. Nathan -  March 27, 2012 - 6:06 am

    Making a big deal about one misused word makes the article feel petty. Instead it would have been interesting if focused on phrases that were used at the time or ones the show uses well.

    Reply
  9. Jack -  March 27, 2012 - 5:54 am

    If anything I think they chose to use “pantyhose” instead of “stockings” so the audience wouldn’t think of something like Christmas stockings or lingerie.

    Reply
  10. hehehh >:{D -  March 27, 2012 - 5:25 am

    OMIGOD GUYS!!!!!!!!!! seriously people make one slip up and your all over it, they said pantyhose, BIG DEAL!!!!! you dont see people writing big articles like these about one word that they said that was correct now do you???? honestly its a great show, just give them a break!!!!!

    PANTYHOSE

    Reply
  11. EvilyIsMe -  March 27, 2012 - 4:35 am

    @Havaneies Dei
    I think I agree with you the most. They apparently think that 1966-1700 don’t include the 60′s? I’m fairly certain that 1966, 67′, 68′, and 69′ were all a part of the sixties. Even so, pantyhose actually were available by 1962, they were extremely expensive for people back then, but the term and item existed.

    I’m 14 and even I know this stuff… it’s kind of sad that even I noticed the inaccuracy in this article :(

    Reply
  12. Rose -  March 27, 2012 - 2:23 am

    I’m a writer and half the fun of setting a piece in a particular era is to get this sort of thing right. Someone will always point it out if you don’t. I have never watched the show but probably will now.

    Reply
  13. eh -  March 26, 2012 - 10:58 pm

    anybody who’s actually interested in these stufs is such a…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… wierdo.

    Reply
  14. eh -  March 26, 2012 - 10:57 pm

    who even cares?

    Reply
  15. eh -  March 26, 2012 - 10:54 pm

    why do we even need to know these stuff?

    Reply
  16. Pickle -  March 26, 2012 - 9:20 pm

    Just to throw a further aspect into the debate the term, pantyhose did not get taken up acoss the Atlantic. In England , what Americans call pantyhose we simply call tights! Tights are the single item worn on both legs as opposed to stockings where you have one for each leg supported by a suspender belt or with elastic tops.
    As for Mad Men, I think it highly likely the term was used by advertising agencies before being commonly adopted by the public.

    Reply
  17. D -  March 26, 2012 - 7:59 pm

    This is Dictionary.com trying to be topical and failing.

    Reply
  18. Erin G. -  March 26, 2012 - 4:06 pm

    lol but more like limh (laughing in my head)

    Reply
  19. Erin G. -  March 26, 2012 - 4:02 pm

    haha thats kind of funny but i doubt they care that pantyhose was not used in the 60′s but i guess its still kind of embarassing and not realistic…..On the other hand i would’ve thought nylons was more modern and pantyhose was used back then

    Reply
  20. . -  March 26, 2012 - 3:53 pm

    Reply
  21. Afghan Whig -  March 26, 2012 - 3:33 pm

    I wasn’t looking to Mad Men for an accurate depiction of American Culture in the first place. But if I wanted to know how a handful of pluged-in television producers see that era…

    Reply
  22. Adam -  March 26, 2012 - 3:21 pm

    Sounds to me like this should – if anything – be a one-line entry into the “goofs” section for that episode on imdb. “They referred to them as ‘pantyhose’ when Topaz actually called them ‘stockings.’”

    An article critiquing the language used on the show, based on comparisons to books and television written during that time period, is weak, at best. If you want to do a serious study, talk to language experts, or better yet, to people who were alive during that time – many of whom have commented here and said, in short, that your article is ridiculous.

    I was hoping for something intelligent and useful, but all I saw was poorly researched assumptions.

    Reply
  23. No Name -  March 26, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    i am anonymous……………………………

    i live in NJ, but which town?\

    how the heck r u supposed to know that? whatevs imma borede

    Reply
  24. Mackenzie -  March 26, 2012 - 1:22 pm

    theres supposed 2 be more space between the scroll down and scroll up…..

    and sorry Peeta is the baker’s son, not the baker!

    i messed up….

    love, peace, kenz :)

    kenzie, kenzy, frenzy, mercedes kenz, kenzometer, kenzolina, mack, kenziepoo, kenz, MACKENZIE (my nicknames…LOL…which 1 do u like best?

    Reply
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