Author Topic: English plurals: a poem  (Read 68 times)

Offline Audiendus

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English plurals: a poem
« on: November 07, 2017, 10:22:11 AM »
The plurals of most English nouns
Just take an S, like kings and crowns.
Some, to avoid phonetic clashes,
Add an E, as in eyelashes.
Children and oxen are a pair
In which the Saxon N's still there.
A few change vowel sounds, like mice;
Some interpose a letter (dice).
Quite often Y becomes IE,
While F may change (or not) to V.
Scissors and clothes are plural only;
People is unique and lonely.
In the case of sheep and deer,
A plural form does not appear;
Likewise, when humans are disdained,
The singular may be retained:
The Hun, the Turk, the infidel,
Whom hostile tribes desire to quell.
In deference to Latin form,
Cacti and algae are the norm,
Bacteria and referenda,
Magi, radii, corrigenda.
Saints' stigmata are a freak,
Which, like schemata, comes from Greek.
From Hebrew, as in many a hymn,
Are cherubim and seraphim.
Italian endings are profuse
(Not pluralized in English use),
Like macaroni and spaghetti,
Tagliatelle and confetti.
Adjectives may serve as nouns,
And many a foreign learner frowns
Because the dead, the old, the young,
Have plurals in their native tongue,
While family names like the Malones
Are singular to Francophones.
No matter: when all's said and done,
These strange anomalies are fun;
Our language has a high degree
Of heterogeneity.

Offline Daniel

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Re: English plurals: a poem
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2017, 01:38:13 PM »
Quote
Likewise, when humans are disdained,
The singular may be retained:
The Hun, the Turk, the infidel,
Whom hostile tribes desire to quell.
Are those really plural in that usage, though? That sounds odd to my ears (or maybe I don't disdain them enough?). The usage seems to be generic to me, like "The lion is a powerful animal."
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Offline Audiendus

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Re: English plurals: a poem
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2017, 10:23:50 PM »
Are those really plural in that usage, though? That sounds odd to my ears (or maybe I don't disdain them enough?). The usage seems to be generic to me, like "The lion is a powerful animal."
I have always thought of the derogatory usage as a distinct category. It seems to me to imply a large group of indistinguishable people, a hostile horde. For example, "they were surrounded by the infidel" or "our soldiers went off to fight the Hun".

Offline Daniel

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Re: English plurals: a poem
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2017, 11:36:51 PM »
Interesting. I've thought of that usage as generic. It also seems to be better when the name might be mistaken for an adjective. Obviously it works with 'the Chinese', and so it sort of seems passable for 'the Hun'. But it would definitely not work (at least to my ears) for "the German". (Except maybe in the right generic context, something like "watch out for the German!") Whether that generic (or plural?) usage also relates to mass nouns is unclear to me, since I don't share your intuitions about it exactly. You may be correct that forms like that have been used in the past though-- it sounds more plausible to me that it's an archaic usage than something found often today, but of course I might just  not be familiar with it personally.

One thing you didn't mention is that some words can have distinct plurals when denoting kinds: "the fishes" (countable, but usually an irregular plural), "the waters" (uncountable, usually no plural).
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Offline Audiendus

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Re: English plurals: a poem
« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2017, 08:04:22 AM »
It is interesting that in the World War II song Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans, "Germans" in the first line becomes "Hun" in the last. (It needs to be "Hun" to rhyme, of course, but it does show that the singular form could be used in parallel to the plural form "Germans".)

One thing you didn't mention is that some words can have distinct plurals when denoting kinds: "the fishes" (countable, but usually an irregular plural), "the waters" (uncountable, usually no plural).
Other occasional plurals: "rains" and "coals" (especially in the expression "coals to Newcastle").

Offline Daniel

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Re: English plurals: a poem
« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2017, 08:38:21 AM »
Plurals and generics can often be parallel also, though. In fact, plurals can be generic: "Lions are mighty." "The lion is mighty."
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