Persons Who Need Persons

Peter McGraw pmcgraw at LINFIELD.EDU
Thu Jul 22 18:53:54 UTC 1999

I believe this person was arguing for a strict separation of the count
noun sg. person -- pl. persons from the collective noun sg. people --
pl. peoples.  Thus "We as a people" would be the usage this writer did
approve of, whereas he would have insisted on "persons of color" and
proscribed "people of color."  I guess we are still safe, at least
for the time being, from a renaming to "The Persons' Republic of China."

Peter Mc.

On Thu, 22 Jul 1999 14:40:21 -0400 "Michael K. Gottlieb"
<michael.gottlieb at YALE.EDU> wrote:

> On Thu, 22 Jul 1999, Peter McGraw wrote:
> > 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.
> Was it implied that "people" should not be used in its own right, quite
> apart from its relationship with the singular "person?"  And if
> so, _when_ would such an authority recommend the use of "people?"  Is it
> possible that the seemingly-increasing use of "persons" is an attempt to
> preserve "people" for a more political connotation?  Perhaps with
> uses like, "People of Color," or  "We, as a people," which have a more
> weighty and political connotation than "Maximum Occupancy: 600
> Persons" are causing an increase in the uses of "persons" as the
> everyday, non-political alternative.  My hunch is that this has
> happened before (and has probably been discussed on this list a number
> of times), but I'm not sure.  Just a thought...

Peter A. McGraw
Linfield College
McMinnville, Oregon
pmcgraw at

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