Columns » Words

Explaining the boob



More plurals gone wild:

"Those officials asked Hamilton not to set bails for the three and instead let that issue be resolved once the new lawyers are hired." Great bails of fire!

From a British detective story: "They could then just shrug and say the mention of their mother was a colossal police boob. He tried to get from the policeman on the phone how he should explain the boob: Had there been an attempt on Bet's life that she had survived? The policeman at the other end, who sounded Asian, remained stum."

In British slang, a boob is "an embarrassing mistake, a blunder"; stum is "not talking; uninformative."

The greatest British detective — the greatest of any nationality, for that matter — was Sherlock Holmes. "The Baker Street Irregulars were the world's preeminent organization devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes, and Harold was its newest member."

The writer here is trying to have it both ways. First he uses a plural verb, were, with Baker Street Irregulars. Then, in the same sentence, he changes his mind and decides that Baker Street Irregulars is singular, requiring a singular pronoun, its.

I say this is cheating, and I'm somewhat confident Holmes would back me up on this. If the Baker Street Irregulars were, then Harold is their newest member. Elementary, my dear Watson, as Holmes would say.

Actually, he wouldn't say that, or at least he didn't in any of the novels and stories written by Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though the phrase is often attributed to the master detective. It's just about impossible to go to a Halloween party dressed as Sherlock Holmes and not say "Elementary, my dear Watson." Apparently, the phrase, or something very similar, did appear in one or more of the many movies, plays and TV shows concerning Holmes. Incidentally, "Sherlock Holmes" is the answer to the trivia question, "Which fictional character has been played by the most actors?"

Humphrey Bogart never played Sherlock Holmes, though. He never said "Play it again, Sam" either.

Add a comment