The Prankster And The Plural

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Ever since I learned to read, English has been my renegade lover.  She is a rapiered pirate with a pistol in her belt and a stiletto on her sleeve.  She moves like a tango, cool-eyed and serious — the scent of the Trade Winds tangled in her hair and the salt of the sea still lingers on her lips.  But when she speaks you must listen carefully – her words are full of wit and unexpected – because she is a prankster, a trickster, a conjurer of jests that make her giggle and clap and crinkle her eyes.

“Would you like some more?” she says, the temptress not even hidden in her voice.
“It’s very easy,” she says, sly as the fox.
“All you have to do,” she says, looking away, “Is add an ‘S’ and you will have two, four, ten, even a thousand — if you like.”

And then you try it, and she has you trapped because it’s her game and she made the rules.

We all know the plural of house is houses, but what about mouse — cuz the plural ain’t mouses.  It’s mice, like lice is the plural of louse.  And it works the same way with a word such as noose.  Though the plural is nooses, you can’t do that with tooth, cuz more than one tooth is never called toothes. They’re teeth just like geese is the plural of goose.  Then it all goes to hell when there’s more than one moose!

But let’s get serious.  No, moose doesn’t get a plural.  Why?  Who knows?  But they’re like several other animals – sheep, swine, deer, bison, shrimp, etc.  One sheep, two sheep, ‘nother sheep, ‘nother sheep; it just doesn’t change.  It’s as if these particular animals were bad or something.  My theory is they pissed Noah off when they were late for the Ark, and he lobbed off their ‘S’ as punishment.  Either way, it’s clear: the “add an ‘S’ rule” doesn’t always work.  Especially since some singular words sound like plurals right from the beginning, and nobody bats an eye.  Look at scissors, pliers and binoculars.  They all get the extra ‘S’ before they even need it.  And some of those singular plurals start off as pairs.  Not like a pair of socks (which is two) but like a pair of pants — which is only one.  And I’m not even going to speculate how we arrived at a pair of pajamas.

Then there are other badass words that don’t care if they’re singular or not.  They just use the plural and strut around like a bunch of linguistic anarchists — words like criteria, media, data and our old favourite, graffiti.  This crew has been wrong for so long everybody thinks they’re right.

Plus there are some pretentious words that don’t bother with the ‘S’ and choose to use an ‘I’ instead because – OOWW! — they’re from the Latin, dontcha know!  These are words like fungus and focus and octopus and cactus.  Personally, I avoid these words because anyone who drops “foci” or “cacti” into a conversation might as well wear a sign that says “Pompous Ass.”  FYI: for all the other pompous asses in the neighbourhood, the plural of hippopotamus is NOT hippopotamiHippopotamus is a Greek word, so the Latin rules don’t apply.  On the other hand, the octopus (also a Greek word) is a smart little cephalopod and snuck into the Latin section when no one was looking.

And from here it just goes nuts.  It’s as if the English language got totally wasted one night on Jamaican rum and was dancing around, naming things.  The plural of dice is die.  The plural of thief is thieves.  The plural of aircraft is – heh, heh, heh – you don’t get one.  More than one child is children — figure that one out – although it happens again with ox and oxenMan becomes men and women don’t get a choice.  Then, just as she collapses on the sofa, laughing, she says, “Oh yeah!  And the plural of person is people.”

So, if you’re studying English as a second language and she’s sitting slumped in a chair with her boots on the table, cleaning her fingernails with a dagger — just do as you’re told!  It’s easier that way.

Sneaky Words!

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English is an incredible language.  It has the delicate touch of Da Vinci’s smile or the turbulent sweep of a Constable sky.  It is the paint we use to conjure our audience’s imagination.  With it, we can flutter a hummingbird’s wing or charge the gates of Hell with righteous fury.  We can do anything with English — including hiding what we want to say in the very words we use to say it.  These are the sneaky words.  They’re usually an oxymoron like “preventable accident,” which sounds totally benign until you realize it actually means “You weren’t watching, you ignorant dolt.  If you’d been paying attention, none of this would’ve happened!”  Face it, folks: that’s exactly what a “preventable accident” really is.  There are a bunch of sneaky words like this that carry all kinds of baggage with them.  Here are just a few more.

1 — Minor crisis – This is a sneaky way of either ramping up the drama or playing down the problem.  The truth is, if it’s a crisis, it isn’t minor; and if it’s minor, it isn’t a crisis.  Either way, anyone who starts yipping about a “minor crisis” is probably riding the incompetence train.

2 — So-called – This is one of those tattletale words that instantly lets us know who the author is cheering for.  No matter how objective they may claim to be, when somebody says “so-called,” it’s never positive, and the connotation is always, “You can call it whatever you like, but we all know what’s going on here, you lying bastard.”

3 — Least favourite – These words have gotten a lot sneakier in recent history.  Back in the day, it was just a slippery way to say, “I don’t like that” without hurting anybody’s feelings.  But, these days, with the addition of 21st century sarcasm, the sky’s the limit on how far down the scrotum pole this can put you.

4 — No offence – These are the words we use when we’ve just offended somebody and we’re worried about getting punched in the face.  Normally, we tack them on at the end when we suddenly realize what we just said.  However, sometimes, when we want to get a kick in, we lead with them, and then add a “but” and a pause to let everybody know we’re the ones doing the punching this time.

5 — Open secret – Here’s another couple of tattletale words that tells us the author thinks he’s a lot smarter than we are.  The premise is there’s secret information available, but only a select group of people who are in-the-know, know it — and the connotation is always – not you.

6 — Zero tolerance – These are the words we use when we know we have a problem but we also know we can’t (or won’t) do anything about it.  For example, “Our school has zero tolerance for bullies.” means the skinny kid with glasses is still going to get kicked around like it’s World Cup, but once a year, we’re going to let him wear a pink t-shirt.

7 — Working holiday (vacation) – These are the sneakiest words in the universe.  They can mean anything.
a) – Your husband forces you to take a vacation, but you can’t stand the man, so you stay in the hotel and work.
b) – You want a vacation, but you have too much work to do.  So you go to Mexico and party with your girlfriend for two weeks and do all the work on the flight home.
c) – You want a vacation, but you’re broke– so you talk your company into sending you to a conference somewhere.
d) – You discover the dream vacation you booked online is a pestilent hole – “Oh, well!  Might as well get some work done.”

And finally:

8 — Passive aggressive – We all know what this means.  We all know someone who practices this dark art with delicious glee.  We all know we’d like to slap them for doing it.  However, we just don’t have the cojones to call them on it.  So instead of creating a scene with shouting, denial and tears, we say they’re passive aggressive (as if it’s an incurable mental condition) and put up with their manipulating bullshit.

I Love Collective Nouns

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Collective nouns are cool.  They add colour and flavour to the otherwise boring job of naming things.  Plus, once you get past the regular stuff like a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep, a pack of dogs etc., they get uber-creative.  I wanna meet the person who thought up “a parliament of owls.”  What kind of a mind can do that?  Or a cauldron of bats?  A prickle of porcupines?  And everybody’s favourite – a murder of crows?  I look at lemurs and think “cute little furry buggers” but somebody else thought “a conspiracy” and, yeah, they were right.  A group of lemurs huddled together look like they’re plotting something.  So, with that in mind, I thought I’d try my hand at creating collective nouns.  Some are more creative than others.

A treachery of politicians – This illustrates the lie/deny cycle of political life.

A scold of environmentalists – A fine label for the holier-than-thou attitude most of these people take.

A robbery of insurance companies – This one speaks for itself.

A congratulation of celebrities – No other group on this planet spends as much time telling each other just how “awesome” they are.

A labyrinth of lawyers – If you can’t get there from here, there’s always a lawyer hiding around the corner somewhere.

A necessity of police officers – Let’s face it!  Without the cops, the streets of most major cities would be a war zone.

A vocalization of vegans – Do you have any idea what these people don’t eat?  Oh, never mind: they’ve already told you – twice!

An annoyance of evangelists – Nothing is quite as big a pain in the ass as somebody interrupting your day to tell you that their God can beat up your God.

A tremble of university students – Here’s a group so fragile they need “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” just to make it through the day.

A lethargy of government workers – One government worker is no problem — but in a group … glaciers move faster.

A swindle of salesmen – Unfortunately, it’s always men who give this profession a bad name.

A tantrum of Twitter users – Once again, this speaks for itself.

A pharmacy of athletes – Professional athletes take a lot of “supplements” – a lot!

A trudge of tourists – What else would you call crowds of sober-faced 40-somethings, plodding through the streets, looking for art galleries, museums and monuments — day after day?

A disgrace of journalists – Once an honourable profession, as a group, these people haven’t done their job properly since Edward R. Murrow roamed the Earth.

A prance of parents – This group is particularly pleased with themselves — even though the vast majority of them are only parents because they let a Ryan Gosling movie get out of hand.

And finally:

A misery of millennials – These perpetual malcontents are constantly complaining about something.  And when they run out of ordinary stuff to whine about, they trot out their student loan.  God, people!  Give it a rest!  Nobody can be that unhappy.

Did I miss any?