Plurals of Birds

To: "'Rod Gardner'" <>
Subject: Plurals of Birds
From: "Tony Russell" <>
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2006 17:03:08 +1030
Excellent Rod, I just knew someone would pick me up on this issue. I
have to agree, common usage is usually the determining factor and
"teals" does sound rather odd and no doubt there are other similar
I thought the list a bit short on threads currently so gave it a go.


-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Rod Gardner
Sent: Monday, February 20, 2006 4:23 PM
To: Tony Russell
Cc: 'Birding Aus'; 'Jill & Reg Oakley'
Subject: Plurals of Birds

Well, Tony, you asked for it. I'm a pseudo academic pedant who is a 
linguist as well as a birder. Most linguists, to the horror of many, 
are pretty laissez-faire about what is acceptable in language. 
Basically, if some way of using language is widespread, then it's 
acceptable. It's about what people actually say that's the baseline, 
not what I or anyone else thinks they should say. So when it comes to 
plural forms for birds, it's okay to use the 's' or not, if both are 
used widely enough and are generally understood. And I would suggest 
that most people would think '15 teal' is perfectly acceptable - in 
fact find me someone who talks about teals. Like so much in life 
(including avian taxonomy), there are fuzzy edges and lots of 
indeterminacy, and we just have to live with it. Maybe not terribly 
scientific, but there you go.

Of course, linguists are not the final authority on these matters, 
just people who spend a lot of time working with language.



Quoting Tony Russell <>:

> In my view there's no reason for birders to invent some sort of 
> special or "s-less" plurals for birds. The English language provides
> adequate
> rules for expressing singular and plural forms of names and nouns,
> with
> just a few weird exceptions like aphid, dice, etc. 
> For birds, I put the "s" on. Sounds ridiculous and incorrect to me
> to
> say anything other than "two crows" or "five albatrosses" or ' ten
> ibises" or " four magpies".  However, I expect some pseudo
> academic
> pedant will come up with some "scientific rationale" for saying two
> crow
> or four magpie. As if things aren't complex enough already.
> Ho hum.
> Tony

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