Lego vs. Legos: Americanism? Regionalism?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Jul 31 15:37:17 UTC 2007

On Jul 30, 2007, at 6:24 PM, Chris Waigl wrote:

> Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:
>> On Jul 30, 2007, at 5:33 PM, Chris Waigl wrote:
>>> ... I don't think during my youth I ever went to a
>>> household with children that didn't contain at least some Lego, and
>>> back
>>> then they were gender neutral.
>> here, "Lego" is clearly plural -- a zero plural...

> Actually ... it's pretty late here, and this debate has me thoroughly
> confused as to what I should have been using, so I put in "some Lego"
> deliberately, feeling it was ever so slightly wrong, myself.
> This was not a bait, but more like a nod to the discussion, and to
> German at the same time -- and meant not as a mass noun singular,
> really, but a brand-name singular, as in "play with Playmobil", "play
> with Barbie", "play with Fischertechnik"...

it was the "they" that pointed to a count plural usage (rather than
mass singular; "some Lego" is consistent with either).

"some Lego" is not, however, consistent with a brand-name usage,
which would involve a bare-N proper "Lego", as in the Playmobil/
Barbie/Fischertechnik examples above.

i've been struggling to make it clear that there is not one single
usage here.  there clearly are differences between british and
american practices, but it also looks like everybody can use "Lego"
in more than one way.  (note that "Barbie" has both bare-N uses, as
above, and clearly count uses, in "a Barbie, several Barbies" -- in
fact, count uses of more than one type: 'Barbie doll' and 'type of
Barbie doll', at least.)

i earlier noted instances of "Lego" 'Lego set' and "Lego" 'Lego
construction'; both are count.  you can also find instances that
clearly involve "Lego" 'Lego piece' (also count); i think this use is

it's not clear what's going on in any *particular* occurrence of
"play with Legos" (american) or "play with Lego" (british); it's
entirely possible that different people are working with different
analyses, and that one person is working with different analyses on
different occasions.  "Legos" in "playing with Legos" could be a
count plural 'Lego pieces' (in which case people would be inclined to
lower-case it); or it could be a proper noun that's plural in form.
"Lego" in "playing with Lego" could be an ordinary proper noun
(taking singular verb and pronoun agreement); or a singular mass
noun; or a zero-plural count noun 'Lego pieces'.


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