Pair of stairs

Опубликовано: 21.05.2017

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I just discovered, via aldiboronti at Wordorigins, the expression a, used to mean (in the OED’s words) ‘A set or flight of stairs or steps; (also) a portable set of steps. ’ It strikes me as deeply counterintuitive, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard or seen it, but it clearly used to be in common use; here are the OED citations:

c1450 J. CAPGRAVE Solace of Pilgrims (Bodl. 423) 77 Thann go we down on a peyr greces in to a chapel thei clepe ierlm.
1530 J. PALSGRAVE Lesclarcissement 182 Vngz degrez, a payre of stayres.
1602 H. PLATT Delightes for Ladies sig. H3v, A maide that fell downe a paire of staires.
1628 J. EARLE Micro-cosmogr. xiii. sig. C10v, A Tauerne Is a degree, or (if you will) a paire of stayres aboue an Alehouse.
1684 Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc. ) 14 443 Being. . not able. . to have past through a Gallery down a pair of Stairs into the Court.
1730 Inventory R. Woolley’s Goods 11 A Pair of wooden Steps.
1755 in J. A. Picton City of Liverpool: Select. Munic. Rec. II. 155 A breast wall and pair of steps from the shore or road up to the Ladies’ Walk.
1761 G. COLMAN in St. James’s Chron. 18 June 1/2, I could as easily have scaled the Monument, as have come at the Tip of her Chin without the Help of a Pair of Steps.
1839 DICKENS Nicholas Nickleby xli. 402 An old black velvet cap, which, by slow degrees, as if its wearer were ascending a ladder or pair of steps, rose above the wall.
1884 J. EASTWOOD & W. A. WRIGHT Bible Word-bk. (ed. 2) s.v. , We still speak of a ‘pair’ of steps or stairs.
1903 W. D. HOWELLS Lett. Home v. 33 It all ended. . in our finding these two rooms, five pair up, in an apartment with respectable people who are glad to let them.
1923 Times 4 Dec. 16 (caption) Mr. Lloyd George is standing on a pair of steps steadied by porters.
1928 A. E. PEASE Dict. Dial. N. Riding Yorks. 92/2 Pair of stairs, the usual term for a ‘flight’ of stairs or a staircase.
1991 B. ALDISS Frankenstein Unbound (BNC) xx. 172, I. . seized a pair of steps, used to reach the higher shelves; I dragged the steps to the middle of the room.
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.

I’m quite sure they’ve misunderstood the last quote, which must refer to two parallel staircases. I presume some of you have seen the expression used (e.g. , in Dickens), but do any of you use it yourselves, or know someone who does?

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