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Plurals, Perry cause trouble


Happinesses are just things called Joes:

Unnecessary plurals continue to infest American discourse, as in "For decades, fights over the provenance and treatment of human bones have played out across the nation. Yet new federal protections could mean that the vast majority of the remains of an estimated 160,000 American Indians held by universities, museums and federal government agencies ... likely will soon be transferred to tribes."

Protection makes the point quite sufficiently, and more gracefully, than protections. "Give the s a rest," as Dickens said, or might have, before we get to "provenances and treatments."

Excessive pluralization has been underway for some years now. Damage was one of the early victims. "The house suffered severe damage from the high wind," became "The house suffered severe damages ..., " the writer apparently feeling a need to explain to us that "this window pane was blown out, and that window pane, and another one over there." But there is no need; it's all damage.

Then, pop-psychologists began talking about behaviors instead of the long-accepted behavior. "See, he picked up the gun and then he fired the gun. That's two behaviors."

The fad spilled over onto the sports page. Extra s's were called up from the minor leagues, in order to turn "Yankee slugger Slam Bamm" into "Yankees slugger ..." Razorback spirit became Razorbacks spirit, though no one could enunciate it properly.

I asked the plurals czar if he could cut us some slack. He said no.

An editor who spoke of a publication's need "to incent our audience" was confronted after the weekly staff meeting. Such talk as that, he was told, will incense the literate members of his audience. Incentive is a word; incent is not. Repentant, he said he must have picked it up from the marketing department. Luckily, we caught it in time; the wall of separation between editorial and advertising was not breached.

"Known in Texas as Perry's Svengali, Leininger made a fortune selling hospital beds." Studies have shown that Texans don't know Svengali from by golly. Leininger is more widely known as Rick Perry's "boss" or "owner."

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