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Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Musings on the Use of Way and Why Glasses (As in Reading Glasses) Should (Not) Take the Plural Form of A Verb

Reading an article in the New York Times yesterday by Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain that explains how oil is gushing more than before since BP installed a new collection device (by cutting through another pipe in order to put in this new collection device), I was struck by something that Dr. Ira Leifer, of the University of Santa Barbara and a part of the government team that is trying to calculate the flow of oil into the ocean, said. Actually, I was struck by his word choice. According to the article, Dr. Leifer believes that the installation of the new device has actually made the situation worse. States Dr. Leifer, “The well pipe clearly is fluxing way more than it did before.”

Way more?

Wouldn’t the term “far more” be like, you know, way more appropriate (though not necessarily any more or less precise)?

The use of way in this instance absolutely intrigues me (clear evidence that I am indeed a nerd with too much time on her hands right now – but that’s what a summer vacation is for, in part – to investigate seemingly inconsequential uses of language that one has absolutely no time to ponder during the academic year).

I am accustomed to hearing this word way used in a similar manner or way (note that way in that usage is a noun) from my students, as in “that band last night was way hot” and “the amount of homework you assign is way unfair.” (Note that in those two usages, way is an adjective. Both my students and Dr. Leifer use way to express a measurement of sorts – to measure the degree to which something exhibits the characteristics of an adjective or adjective complement, as in BP deceived the public way more than we thought, or the Dow plunged way more yesterday, or she is way beautiful, or the oil is way disgusting, or BP is way evil.

Ah then, way can also stand in for very, which operates as a measurement, just as far or more or the combination of the two does. If something is very beautiful – it is beautiful to a high degree. In this way, very seems way more precise as a measurement than far more or way, yet is still way too vague for my liking – especially when trying to measure the impact of oil gushing into the ocean, which is way polluting our environment. (Ah, here way functions as an adverb).

Now, although this topic of way’s usage is gripping stuff, it’s time to move on to the next– why the word glasses takes the plural form of a verb – as in my glasses are always getting way smudged. (And please note in the previous sentence the verb takes is in singular form because its subject is not glasses but word - a singular noun. But the issue isn’t why glasses take the plural verb form, the issue is why they should not.

In general, a plural noun takes the plural form of the verb and a singular noun takes a singular form of a verb, as in she is unhappy with BP, or the glass is more than half full of oil, or the wine glasses are streaked, but we will drink out of them anyway to help us cope with the oil spill. Note that she and glass (both singular) take the singular form is, and wine glasses (there is more than one glass) take the plural form are. Interestingly, for my examples I chose to use a verb (to be) which is irregular. But generally, a singular subject (which does not have an s-ending) takes the singular form of a verb (which does have an s-ending) as in a singular subject takes… and a plural subject (which has an s-ending) takes a plural form of a verb (which does not have an s-ending) as in those subjects take… And yes, I know, that this simple formula has plenty of exceptions.

But back to this confounding issue of glasses (eye glasses, not wine glasses) being plural when in reality, I argue it is singular. Granted, glasses have two lenses, but glasses are only one object. Glasses as an object are really singular. It would seem that glasses take the plural form because as an object it is made up of multiple or plural parts, including and clearly the main focus (pun intended) or part of the object - the two lenses that are encased in the frame. But the two lenses, the frame, and the screws are all put together to create one, complete object comprised of multiple parts. We don’t take other objects that are made up of parts and apply the plural form of a verb to them, even if they, by happenstance, include two of the same parts. For example, I have a lamp that is two-headed – branching out from its stand are two different arms (and here, in another peculiar structure, the verb are relates to the plural arms, even though arms appears after the verb and generally, we know, the subject appears before the verb); each arm has its own light bulb (so the lamp has two light bulbs) and two different (yet identical) shades. But we don’t call that lamp a lamps because it has multiple parts of which some are identical. It is still just a singular lamp.

But what about shoes, earrings, gloves – we use plural for those. But there are two items, and in each case, the two items don’t comprise one complete, connected object. The key here is connected – as in one solid object (which glasses are, but gloves, earrings, shoes are not). We have a pair of gloves, a pair of earrings, a pair of shoes. Yes we have a pair of glasses, but my point here is that the pair of glasses are one complete object and the pair of shoes, gloves, earrings, are not. Thus, glasses should not be plural.

We have this same problem with pants or trousers. I am wearing beige pants as I write this, but my blue pants are hanging in the closet. My blue pants are only one object (as are my beige) and despite the use of the plural s-ending, are considered one whole and complete object, (even though one could argue that more than likely, they are made up of different parts and not sewn from one complete piece of cloth). Regardless, it would seem that because that particular article of clothing has two legs, we consider the noun plural and thus it takes a plural form of a verb.

Just as my pants have two legs, the blouse I am wearing has two sleeves. Yet I am not wearing blouses.

Now it’s time to remove my glasses and clean it. The problem with wearing glasses is glasses is always getting dirty. Wow, that like sounds way weird.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jack K. said...

A most erudite expounding upon a very arcane topic.

I have worn a "pair" of glasses since I was a teenager. I am sure you know that I am talking about one item with two lenses and two temple pieces connected by a nose bridge.

You are certainly on target about one thing, you do have too much time on your hands.

lol

June 09, 2010 2:25 PM  
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June 21, 2010 8:10 PM  

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