"lion" +/- "-s"

Brian Hitchcock brianhi at SKECHERS.COM
Tue Oct 28 22:07:52 UTC 2008

. . . . . . "Likewise, the park has hundreds of thousands of exotic birds.
But the problem is big game [Z] are scarce. It took 60 Minutes several days
to find the lion [Z] and elephant [Z]. The wildebeest [Z] and buffalo [Z] no
longer cover the plain, and the impala herds are just a fraction of their
former size.". . . .

-- I propose that what was intended here was neither a singular nor a
plural, but a sort of "one or more instances of" sense; that is, a
generalized reference to each respective species.  They went looking, not
specifically for many lions, as they had seen in the '60s, nor really for
one lion; rather they went looking to see whether ANY beasts of that species
still exist in the area. In that sense, number is IRRELEVANT. The clue is
the speaker's use of "the" rather than "a" ("the" before "elephant" and
"wildebeest" are missing, but implied by parallel construction.)

Literally, one could substitute "to find any lions" for "the lion". But
literarily speaking, it sounds less poetic, less majestic, don't you think?
I claim that the speaker used exactly the same kind of intentional numeric
ambiguity that gives a pleasant lilt to this terse ditty:

Oh, give me a home

where the buffalo roam

and the deer

and the antelope play

rather than the downright awkwardness of "It took 60 Minutes several days to
find any lions and [or?] any elephants" (which would be awkward even without
the aural non sequitur "60 Minutes several days".)

Brian Hitchcock

technical writer

Manhattan Beach, CA

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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