singular debris?

Peter McGraw pmcgraw at LINFIELD.EDU
Thu Jul 22 18:11:12 UTC 1999

Many years ago I read, in Saturday Review or some other such
publication that periodically printed such pieces, an article by one of
those self-appointed "authorities" who write compendia of prescriptive
prejudices that are accepted as gospel on "correct English."

(Obviously *I'm* not prejudiced!)

Anyway, said "authority" (who shall remain anonymous because I've
forgotten who it was) argued that it was "incorrect" to use "people" as
a plural for "person" because the former could not be derived from the
latter by adding a suffix.

I know two (uh-oh, here it comes) people, a husband and wife, who
consistently use "persons" where most of us would use "people" (though
I never noticed "any persons" being substituted for "anybody"), and I
always figured it must be because they had read some such pronouncement
or had arrived at the idea themselves through some similar hyperlogic.
The husband was the executive director of the Oregon Historical
Society, and I noticed the usage had spread at least to some of the
department heads at OHS as well.

Peter Mc.

On Thu, 22 Jul 1999 13:44:48 -0400 "Michael K. Gottlieb"
<michael.gottlieb at YALE.EDU> wrote:

> Speaking of plurals...
> I have a coworker who consistently uses "persons" where I and others
> would use "people" or "body," as in "anybody."  At first I thought it
> was only in her formal speech, but she uses it casually, as well.  I
> have yet to ask her about it, but I thought I'd get an informal poll,
> first to see if it's as uncommon as I think it is.
>   "Those persons can choose from list A or B."
>   "Any persons who don't want to go early, don't have to."   "There are
> usually 9 persons to each class..."
> Is "people" considered less formal or less good?

Peter A. McGraw
Linfield College
McMinnville, Oregon
pmcgraw at

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