Singular and plural

There don’t seem to be any rules in English about which collective nouns will be treated as singular and which will be treated as plural.  By some arbitrary process, English speakers settle on singular forms for some collective nouns and plural forms for others.  Yesterday’s Andy Capp got me thinking about this:

Of course,  the joke doesn’t make sense- no one says “”I was just wondering how my saving is doing?,” no matter how logical it might be to say such a thing.   

The question that all this raises, of course, is why I read Andy Capp.   To which the answer is, it was in the paper when I was five, and I thought then that the reason it never made me laugh was that I wasn’t sufficiently grown-up for it.  By the time it occurred to me that there might be a different reason, I was in the habit.

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13 Comments

  1. cymast

     /  November 18, 2009

    I always thought “peoples” sounded awkward.

  2. cymast

     /  November 18, 2009

    Word which end in “sk” or “sc” are like nails across a chalkboard when you pluralize them, IMO.

  3. acilius

     /  November 18, 2009

    Maybe that’s because of the ambiguity of “people.” There’s “people” the plural of “person,” as in “I saw three people walking down the street.” Then there’s “people” in the sense of a group with a definite membership and social function, like “the American people.”

    They didn’t have that ambiguity in ancient Greek or Latin. If the Romans wanted to say “person” or “persons,” they could say homo or homines; if they wanted to say “people” or “peoples,” they could say populus or populi. No overlap, no awkwardness.

  4. cymast

     /  November 18, 2009

    That’s “Words” in #2 in case you had no idea what I was talking about.

  5. acilius

     /  November 18, 2009

    She tsks-tsks at “discs” and “risks,” eh?

  6. acilius

     /  November 18, 2009

    I’m waiting for Mrs Acilius to come so we can get lunch. Too bad no place around here serves any lobster bisques.

  7. cymast

     /  November 18, 2009

    Gee thanks. I’m literally cringing.

  8. acilius

     /  November 18, 2009

    That sound must irritate you intensely if it induced cringing after Andy Capp failed to do so. Or maybe it was the two things together?

  9. cymast

     /  November 18, 2009

    Capp is irritating, but *that sound* makes my skin crawl.

  10. acilius

     /  November 18, 2009

    Gosh, I’ll have to make a note of it. Something has been discovered that is more irritating than Andy Capp.

  11. cymast

     /  November 19, 2009

    Add the plural of “st” to the note. I had mentally blocked it.

  12. acilius

     /  November 19, 2009

    Okay, I’ll add “-sts” to the lists of Cymast’s dislikes.

  13. cymast

     /  November 21, 2009

    Also, plural of “sp.” My mind refuses to bring up those plural words until I actually hear them.

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