Singular or plural?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 4 07:17:00 UTC 2010

Has anybody who has actually served as an EM in some branch of the
military  within at least the past half-century heard "barrack-room
(X)" used in the wild? In the U.S., a barracks was, before the coming
of the "volunteer" Army, at least, a two-story wooden building of the
shotgun-shack school of architecture, some dating back to WWI. The
rough equivalent of a German _Erdgeschoss_ held the latrine. A tiny
part of the first floor was closed off to provide a "private" room for
the barracks sergeant. The rest of the barracks, first and second
floors, was open space filled with, in basic-training units,
double-decker bunks. After basic, bunks might or might not been
double-deckers. In the gigantic, by American standards, brick
palace-barracks taken over from the Wehrmacht, whether bunks were
single- or double-decker depended on where, in the barracks, the
Random Fuck Machine assigned you. The individual rooms in the
barracks, which held as few as three (they held only two head of EM
under the Wehrmacht) warm bodies or as many as God-only-knows, were
called "bays" and not "barrack(s) rooms."

Since the US Army had taken over the remaining 19th-c. posts left over
from WWII, the Germans built brand-new, college-campus-style posts for
the Bundeswehr. The irony!

FWIW, I'd heard the term, "warm body" in its usual use, here and
there, before I joined the Army. In the Army, however, "management"
used the term to death. Hence, we EM didn't use it.

Among L.A. power-plant human resources, ex-sailors spoke of the
"turbine deck" and the "boiler deck." For us ex-GI's, it was the
"turbine bay" and the "boiler bay." And everyone used "tur-bin" and
not "tur-bine," which latter seems to be the ordinary pronunciation on
the East Coast.


On Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 9:58 AM, James Smith <jsmithjamessmith at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       James Smith <jsmithjamessmith at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Singular or plural?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Of course it's not quite the same thing because it's a compound adjective, but "barrack room" is fairly common; e.g., Kipling's "Barrack Room Ballads", barrack-room lawyer, barrack room brawl and so forth.  Might this perhaps indicate a singular noun form was once in use?
> James D. SMITH               |If history teaches anything
> South SLC, UT                |it is that we will be sued
> jsmithjamessmith at   |whether we act quickly and
>                                    decisively
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> --- On Tue, 12/29/09, Randy Alexander <strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>> From: Randy Alexander <strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject: Re: Singular or plural?
>> Date: Tuesday, December 29, 2009, 6:32 PM
>> On Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 8:38 AM, Herb
>> Stahlke <hfwstahlke at>
>> wrote:
>> > Strictly in terms of raw googits, for what it's worth,
>> "barracks (was
>> > or is)" gets 5 million; "barracks (were or are) gets
>> 6.18 million.
>> More evidence that this is a noun with identical singular
>> and plural forms.
>> > My
>> > guess is that there isn't much difference in the
>> frequency of singular
>> > vs. plural uses. Â Without a determiner, as in "New
>> barracks *was/were
>> > built," plural is necessary, but with a definite
>> article, "the Marine
>> > barracks was bombed," singular works. Â Barracks
>> belongs to one of
>> > several classes of noun that grammars list as
>> sometimes or always
>> Sometimes or always?
>> > taking singular verbs and allowing the indefinite
>> article, but these
>> > lists rarely include any explanation beyond possible
>> membership, e.g.,
>> The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has a pretty
>> exhaustive
>> treatment of this, p333-54.
>> > diseases (measles, mumps, rickets), games (checkers,
>> darts, quoits
>> > (what's a quoit)),
>> A quoit is a ring (about 10cm or so in diameter) often used
>> for a
>> ring-toss-like game.
>> > miscellaneous other terms (barracks, scissors,
>> > shears).
>> Scissors/shears are different than barracks, because while
>> you can say
>>  "two barracks", you cannot say "two scissors/shears", but
>> rather "two
>> pairs of scissors/shears".  Scissors/shears are
>> therefore plural
>> uncount nouns, along with clothes, pants, munitions,
>> etc.  They are
>> uncount because they cannot be used with numbers.
>> > A few years ago a graduate student of mine did his
>> > dissertation on the treatment of words like these by
>> different social
>> > groups and found considerable variation both within
>> and across groups.
>> >
>> > Herb
>> >
>> > On Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 3:14 PM, Bill Palmer <w_a_palmer at>
>> wrote:
>> > > In a story reporting the location of prior chief
>> executives at times of =
>> > > national crisis (occasioned by the recent attempt
>> to bomb a NWA flight), =
>> > > CBS reported, "President Reagan was on vacation
>> when the Marine barracks =
>> > > in Beirut were bombed in 1983". Â I would have
>> used "was". Â But I don't =
>> > > really know which is appropriate.
>> --
>> Randy Alexander
>> Jilin City, China
>> Blogs:
>> Manchu studies:
>> Chinese characters:
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