dwarves etc.

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Mar 9 19:23:39 UTC 2001

>I asked two young persons (ages 12, 8) to pluralize "dwarf", "scarf",
>"hoof". ....
>... are they gamers?

Not at all. The 12-year-old has plenty of Web exposure but tends to stick
to serious material; the 8-year-old has no such exposure, and made
"dwarves" by the rule "-f" > "-ves" learned in school. I think they have
read the Harry Potter books, though, now that I think of it ... do these
have "dwarves"?

>... The use of "staves" strengthens this possibility, as AFAIK* this
>plural is used only in music (sometimes) and in fantasy text and games
>(very often), but never for personnel ("we discussed the research and
>payroll staffs/*staves").

The 12-year-old recognizes "staves" from music, and accepts both plurals
... and both singulars (but does not recognize "[barrel] stave"). It
doesn't surprise me that young people have encountered a lot of words; what
surprises me is the facility with which they answer the questions, and how
often they are correct. I would think many educated adults might have
trouble with questions such as "Is 'oaves' a satisfactory plural of 'oaf'?"
... I would consult my dictionary on this one myself (and I did). The
12-year-old started laughing immediately at "oaves", and made a similar
response to "staves" referring to personnel. This person gave "dwarves" for
"dwarf" but didn't laugh at "dwarfs", just expressed relative disapproval
-- until I proposed the astronomical "white dwarves" which elicited "I
would use 'dwarfs' for that." ("Why?" "I don't know.") There is always the
possibility of 'hints' from the questioner, but I tried to minimize this,
e.g., keeping my face turned away and phrasing the questions in neutral

-- Doug Wilson

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