Beware False Plurals

rogersgeorge on May 31st, 2016

I wrote about false plurals before, but it was several years back, and I just ran into a nice example of someone falling into that trap, so I thought I’d mention this little pothole again. Here’s the sentence:

However, that effort has been going about as well as Tennessee politics have been going, which is to say, not very well.

This is from a newsletter sent occasionally by the excellent cartoonist Hilary Price, who writes the comic Rhymes with Orange, and whom I recommend to all of you.

The sentence says “…politics have been going…” Looks like “politics” is a plural, doesn’t it? It’s not! That “-ics” is a noun suffix meaning that it’s a field of study, like physics, fluidics, and phonics. (Beware of words that happen to already end in “-ic” such as “picnic.” They’re different.)

It works the other way sometimes, too, mostly with words originating in languages (such as Latin) that don’t necessarily use “-s” to indicate the plural. “Apocrypha,” for example, is actually the plural of “apocryphon,” but we consider it a singular now, especially since the most common usage is the single collection of spurious books in the Bible. I mentioned recently that the word “media” is headed that way now.

And don’t get me started on “the hoi polloi.”

Remember, get rid of the “-ics” when you use the word as another part of speech: Do your mathematizing in math class. It was an athletic tour-de-force.

Yes, the first sentence in this post contains a mixed metaphor, but that’s a topic for another day.

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False plurals

rogersgeorge on January 16th, 2014

Some words end in “s” that aren’t plurals. I’m not referring to well-known suffixes such as -ness, either. Neither do I refer to words that end in the ess sound, such as porpoise, or familiar s-ending words with well-known plurals such as glass, grass, pass, and gas.

Some words used to end in -s that we removed the ess sound from to make them sound singular. The most famous, perhaps, is pease, now singularized to pea and a new plural, peas.

I’ll let the comic explain about the rest:

Why Politics Are Boring

I have seen “physic” in print (it’s now obsolete), and “gymnastic” as an adjective. But the point of this Candorville comic from Oct 12, 2013 is correct: fields of study (-ics) such as physics and mathematics are singulars, and they should get singular verbs.