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plural compound nouns
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2013/02/13
8:30am
New River, AZ, USA
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Last night before the President’s speech one of the commentators (voice only, but I’m pretty sure it was Wolf Blitzer) was talking about the State of the Union Address in a way that required it to be plural. He said:

“Compared to other States of the Union – [pauses as he realizes his error and then finishes] – Addresses, this one will be…”

Now I thought I understood why the correct plural forms are: passers-by, sons-in-law, attorneys general, etc. It’s because for some compound nouns the adjectival part follows rather than precedes what is being counted.

Major Generals is not an exception, since the “general” here is modified by the rank “major.” Whereas with Attorneys General, the historic concept was that these particular attorneys perform general services, hence “general” is the modifier.

At least I thought I understood it. Then, when doing a little research afterward, I found this in Merriam-Webster online, which claims that both “attorneys general” and “attorney generals” are acceptable. To me, that seems just plain wrong. Or am I seeing another morphing of the language here based on usage?

[Edit: Damn ... there seems to be no way to edit a typo in the title.]
2013/02/13
5:39pm
RobertB
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Feel with you. But I guess this is one of those where people will have opinions either way, and no one wins except in his own mind.

2013/02/14
3:17pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Yep, I think that’s what it’s all about Robert. And if the people who “think the other way” start to dominate usage … well, that’s how language changes.

I do have to break the thread topic to mention something curious that happened. When I first posted the question, I made a typo in the title, writing compund instead of compound. I tried to edit it, but the edit function doesn’t let you change the title. Probably because the forum software would experience broken internal links if the title changed. So I decided not to worry about it.

Then, the following day when I logged on, a banner appeared that said something like “The title of this post has been edited.” And lo and behold, the spelling of compound had been corrected. I can’t be the only forum member this has happened to, unless it’s something really new.

Being the curious sort, makes me wonder if this is an internal spell-check run by the forum software to eliminate spelling errors in titles (and improve SEO), or if Grant is going in manually and correcting these things? Not like I’d expect any regular member to know, but if Grant reads this, I’d be curious to find out. Thanks.

 

2013/02/14
3:27pm
San Diego, California
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I didn’t change it but there is a volunteer admin who may have editing privileges of that sort.

I have sometimes silently fixed such things but not often and not this one.

2013/02/15
10:38pm
tromboniator
Alaska
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I’ve been looking for an example other than attorney general, and have finally come up with battle royal. Now, M-W offers the same plural options (battles royal vs. battle royals) which others do not, but I have yet to find out what we do for possessive form. Is it attorney’s general,  or is it attorney general’s ? If the former, it could lead to confusion, e.g. What is the attorney’s general outlook? ; if the latter, it seems to subvert the logic of the plural attorneys. Same problem with the battle’s royal din vs. battle royal’s din. And, good grief, what about possessive plural?

Don’t mind me, I’m just here to make trouble.

2013/02/16
1:41am
RobertB
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Never seen them like these, though if I did I wouldn’t’ve called the police. No?

All the Attorneys-General’s concerted actions
All the Surgeons-General’s reports
All the Professors-Emeritus’s pensions
All the Justices-of-Peace’s opinions
All the ladies-in-waiting’s  costumes
All my comrades-in-arms’ blood
Mother-of-pearl’s lusters
2013/02/16
9:12am
New River, AZ, USA
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Robert said: Never seen them like these, though if I did I wouldn’t’ve called the police. No?

Me either, but only because I really don’t know what the correct format is for possessive or plural possessive compound nouns. If I ever had to construct one, and I don’t think I ever have, I’d probably just Google the various possibilities and use whichever gets the most hits.

I tried to find some guidelines online, but didn’t find much. This was close, but didn’t really answer the question for compound nouns in general.

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