singular "small fry"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Fri Dec 19 17:42:00 UTC 2008

On Dec 19, 2008, at 8:52 AM, Alison Murie wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Alison Murie <sagehen7470 at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      singular "small  fry"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Tom Engelhardt, writing about the collapse of the book market, says,
> of one of its victims, "He was just a small fry"....... While this is
> perfectly clear & reasonable, to me, "small fry" is an invariable mass
> noun, like "scampi."

this confusion appears again and again: mass vs. plural.  the usual
use of "small fry" is *not* as a mass noun, but as a zero plural (of a
count noun).  the OED cites for "small fry" show clearly plural
syntax: "From the small fry that glide ...", "One of the small
fry ...", "all other managers were small fry".  the OED has no clearly
singular count uses, but you can google up plenty of them: a NYT
headline "A Big Struggle Over a Small Fry", a t-shirt "Just a Small
Fry", "As all those petite, wannabe-tall yet slow-to-grow youngsters
know, life as a small fry can have its disadvantages", "As a small fry
we offer custom product assemblies", and many more (plus references to
french fries, as in "How many calories in a small fry from
McDonalds?" , where the reference is to a small order of french fries).


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list