Another one bites the dust?
m.l.murphy at SUSSEX.AC.UK
Fri Sep 7 15:42:01 UTC 2007
I went to what was possibly the worst theatre experience of my life last
night--the first half was just people reading from books--not very well
(we'd gone thinking it was going to be original material) and the second
half was an apparently un-rehearsed sketch about the paranormal. In the
latter, 'phenomena' was used as singular all the way through--this was by
the editor of two magazines.
But the bit that really got me was the guy reading from a book who kept
pronouncing 'apparel' as APP-r-el. (Perhaps the word was
unfamiliar--American fondness for [and British perceptions of] this word
came up on my blog back here:
Anyhow, I know that none of this is particularly relevant to the discussion
and that, hey, foreign plurals get funny in English and people mispronounce
words they don't know...but I had to make something out of it, because that
was THREE HOURS OF MY LIFE I'LL NEVER GET BACK!
(Don't ask me why we didn't leave. We just kept hoping it would get
better, and there were friends-of-friends involved. By the end we realized
that the guy reading 20 minutes' worth of a decontextualized bit of a
Sherlock Holmes story in a funny voice was the high point of the
evening--and that was right at the beginning.)
--On Thursday, September 6, 2007 9:42 am -0700 "Arnold M. Zwicky"
<zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:
> On Sep 6, 2007, at 9:03 AM, Gerald Cohen wrote:
>> I've often heard "a phenomena" and "a criteria," and last night on
>> the news someone spoke of "a paparazzi." We deal here with a
>> tendency (not a law, though, of course) to shift the plural to the
>> singular. I've noticed many more examples over the years, but they
>> don't come to mind at the moment. Maybe it's time to compile them.
> from Garner's DMAU (1998: 494):
> phenomenon. Pl. phenomena... Several errors occur. First, and perhaps
> most commonly, the plural form is increasingly misused as a singular?
> e.g.: ... "No_ social phenomena_ [read _phenomenon_] highlights the
> change better than the explosive growth of religious cults"...
> Chicago Trib.
> Second, more strangely, the term _phenomenon_ is sometimes mistakenly
> used as a plural?e.g.: "[T ]hese irregularities could explain several
> _phenomenon_ [read _phenomena_] in the earth including the well-known
> jerkiness in the planet's rotational rate" ... N.Y. Times
> i got ca. 333 hits for several phenomenon on 2/23/07, mostly in
> scientific contexts.
> in fact, i believe that all possible patterns (except for the
> reversed pattern, sg. phenomena, pl. phenomenon) can be found:
> A1. sg. phenomenon, pl. phenomena
> A2. sg. phenomenon, pl. phenomenon [as above -- zero plural]
> A3. sg. phenomenon, pl. phenomenons [regularization]
> B1. sg. phenomena, pl. phenomena [spread of pl. to sg. -- zero plural]
> B2. sg. phenomena, pl. phenomenas [spread of pl. to sg. plus
> if that weren't complicated enough, some people have more than one
> and, in my experience, different lexemes don't necessarily show the
> same pattern(s); "criterion" doesn't necessarily have the same pattern
> (s) as "phenomenon".
> a nice topic for further study, but i have to warn you that just
> asking people what form they use in particular contexts is probably
> not the way to go.
Dr M Lynne Murphy
Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and English Language
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QN
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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