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Words June 23

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Edward Wooten finds fault with the Arkansas Times’ June 9 cover headline, “The bird is the word but the Big Woods are the story.” “I would argue that ‘Big Woods’ is singular and hence the verb should be ‘is,’ ” he writes. A writer choosing a verb for woods can’t go wrong either way. Random House and Success With Words are a couple of authorities that say woods takes either a singular or a plural verb. SWW adds that “the plural is the more usual choice: The woods are scary tonight.” Possibly Wooten believes Big Woods is singular because the phrase is the proper name of a particular place or thing, and therefore whether woods itself is singular or plural is irrelevant. I don’t adhere to that theory. I would never write “The Rocky Mountains is quite tall.” The notion that plural nouns become singular when they’re capitalized as part of a proper name seems to be most popular in sports departments: “The Arkansas Razorbacks is taking the field.” “The Yankees is in last place in the Eastern Division.” I don’t like it there either. Sounds unnatural. An emu band, now, that would be something to see: “The Atlanta-based ‘emo’ band, Copeland, sings about life and love.” I asked Times music columnist Amy Brawner about emo. She replies: “It’s a sort of a take-off on punk, guitar-driven but instead of 45-second atonal thrashing rock and the subject matter being anarchy and other such lofty subjects, emo is usually emaciated, depressed boys that sing about being alienated. Despite what that may sound like, there’s actually some good stuff out there, like Jimmy Eat World. Kevin Kerby also says that emo bands tend to wear too-tight vintage T-shirts.” Stuart Jay Silverman of Hot Springs writes: “Am I the only person who deplores the abuse of ‘–less,’ as in ‘Payless Shoes’? I’m tempted to buy a pair of loafers and feign astonishment when I’m asked to pay for them, but the clerk, who’d probably be puzzled and irate, is neither the person who perpetrated the barbarism, nor in any position to undo it.”

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