Plurals of Birds

To: Tony Russell <>
Subject: Plurals of Birds
From: Penny Brockman <>
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2006 20:43:43 +1100
To just put another angle on the subject, perhaps it's a hangover from hunting terminalogy - you hunt "duck" but admire "peacocks" etc. Although people also ate them. And you have a dove cote for the doves, and a chicken run for the chickens (or chooks). I'm no linguist like Rod, I just like the English language and its enormous diversity, inconsistency and flexibility - as he obviously does. But it sounds equally right to say you saw some duck on the lake today, as some ducks on the lake today.

Tony Russell wrote:

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
examples. I thought the list a bit short on threads currently so gave it a go.


To: Tony Russell
Cc: 'Birding Aus'; 'Jill & Reg Oakley'
Subject: RE: [BIRDING-AUS] 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
rules for expressing singular and plural forms of names and nouns,
just a few weird exceptions like aphid, dice, etc. For birds, I put the "s" on. Sounds ridiculous and incorrect to me
say anything other than "two crows" or "five albatrosses" or ' ten
ibises" or " four magpies".  However, I expect some pseudo
pedant will come up with some "scientific rationale" for saying two
or four magpie. As if things aren't complex enough already.
Ho hum.

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