Subjects and Verbs
December 16, 2004 3:38 PM   Subscribe

From this thread:

... you're probably aware that Clear Channel own ...

What is the DEAL with verb/subject disagreement when it comes to corporate entities?? Clear Channel is an IT! Likewise band names. I can't remember how many articles I've read with phrases like "Metallica are..." or "Led Zeppelin are..." Why is this OK in the music business? I know this is mostly rant-y, but I'm genuinely curious if anyone has, like, the Rolling Stone Style Guide or something.
posted by rkent to Writing & Language (38 answers total)
 
Not sure if it's applicable in this case, but it's partly a Brit/American distinction.

In the UK, it's "Company X are..." whereas in the US it's "Company X is..."
posted by Jeanne at 3:41 PM on December 16, 2004


It's an issue to do with collective nouns. Americans tend to treat band names, company names, etc. as "singular", thus requiring "is", while many Europeans treat such as "plural". As an American raised in Europe, I had to adjust when returning to the States - and personally find no issue with the colloquial differences. To others the dissonance sounds akward.
posted by ericb at 3:42 PM on December 16, 2004


Jeanne - beat me to it by a minute.
posted by ericb at 3:42 PM on December 16, 2004


Ah, so this is part of the British Invasion, then? I should check the old rock magazines from before the Beatles. If there are such things.
posted by rkent at 3:44 PM on December 16, 2004


*awkward*
posted by ericb at 3:47 PM on December 16, 2004


I see it a lot in the British press. I think British style is that corporations are collective entities, and are treated as a plural.
posted by Vidiot at 3:50 PM on December 16, 2004


(d'oh! hit Preview, then took a while reading other threads before I hit Post.)
posted by Vidiot at 3:51 PM on December 16, 2004


They say "the government are" too. Freaks me out but what are you gonna do, it's their language.
posted by nicwolff at 3:56 PM on December 16, 2004


The one that bothers me the most is the "correct" usage of 'data'. As in, "The following data are totally random."

*vomit*
posted by robbie01 at 3:59 PM on December 16, 2004


American Heritage Book of English Usage: collective noun

(just repeats what others here have said, as will any other usage guide)
posted by grouse at 4:08 PM on December 16, 2004


Ah ... "Data" is the plural form of "datum", just as "media" is the plural for of "medium" - thus requiring "are". It all goes back to Latin roots.
posted by ericb at 4:11 PM on December 16, 2004


*form of*
posted by ericb at 4:12 PM on December 16, 2004


It's correct in Britain. The poster is from "Taxachusetts" though. Doesn't really bother me either way. And also, wasn't there a MeTa not long ago that said it was better to leave a minor grammatical error lie than to make an extra post to correct it (unless the meaning was substantially altered)?
posted by Doohickie at 4:28 PM on December 16, 2004


"The government are" may well be weird, but then again "Smith, Barney, Harris Upham & Co. is" is equally strange. Part of the problem is our little style guide foolish consistency hobgoblin; how about "government is" and "S,B,H,U & Co. are?" If you can't tell if it's a plural, or if it's a collective noun (like "everybody") count it as a singular.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 4:31 PM on December 16, 2004


However, in many instances today writers and journalists often treat "data" and "media" as singular. (using "is").

Thanks, grouse, for the link to bartleby.com - a great online resource.
posted by ericb at 4:32 PM on December 16, 2004


Coincidentally, I just had to confirm this rule at work about an hour ago. Here's a handy example from The Copyeditor's Handbook (University of California Press, 2000), p. 342:

The couple is in therapy.
But: The couple disagree [not "disagrees"] about money.
posted by scody at 4:38 PM on December 16, 2004


The couple is in therapy.
But: The couple disagree [not "disagrees"] about money.


But isn't that then splitting the couple up into its separate entities? The couple as a unit "is in therapy", but disagrees with itself (one part of the couple vs. another, and a couple is by definition two singles) over money. I think if one couple disagreed with an entirely different couple about money, one would most like use disagrees to describe the situation.
posted by LionIndex at 4:52 PM on December 16, 2004


That might have been your whole point. Doh.
posted by LionIndex at 4:53 PM on December 16, 2004


Either way, I would never say 'the couple disagree.' It sounds ridiculous. Copyeditor's handbooks and other such style guides are sometimes more about institutionalizing standards to prevent the appearance of unprofessionalism due to inconsistency than in actually promoting the usage that makes the most sense or even that grates the least on the reader.
posted by bingo at 5:08 PM on December 16, 2004


Different U.S. publications have different editing rules for this. I was once a copy editor at Billboard, where a band would be considered singular if its name wasn't obviously plural -- "Radiohead is working on a new album" and "The Strokes are working on a new album" were both correct. Then I copyedited at Spin, which would say "Radiohead are working on a new album" (or more likely "Radiohead are hunkering down in the studio, fretting over their latest masterpiece"). For a while these jobs overlapped, which was fun as they had many different style rules covering quite similar material.

For most newspapers and magazines, style rules are just a matter of keeping everything consistent within that publication -- other publications' styles don't enter into it.
posted by lisa g at 6:01 PM on December 16, 2004


you're probably aware that Clear Channel own

ObSlapShot: Owns, owns!
posted by kindall at 6:23 PM on December 16, 2004


Speaking of collective nouns, what do you call a player on the Red Sox baseball team? A Red Sock? How about a Miami Heat basketball player? A Miami Hot?
posted by TimeFactor at 6:31 PM on December 16, 2004


Ooooh, oooh, I'm a copyeditor; I can answer that: a member of the Red Sox or a Miami Heat player.
posted by dame at 6:47 PM on December 16, 2004


Well, that's appropriate for publication but it's a tad unwieldy for casual conversation.
posted by TimeFactor at 7:10 PM on December 16, 2004


Either way, I would never say 'the couple disagree.' It sounds ridiculous.

Sounds normal to me. If you said "the couple disagrees" about money, and you meant that the individuals in the couple were disagreeing with each other, I'd think you had spoken incorrectly.

The error I catch myself making from time to time, and catch other people making quite often, is saying things like "He's taller than me" rather than "He's taller than I am."
posted by ludwig_van at 7:35 PM on December 16, 2004


Faster than a speeding bullet is!
More powerful than a locomotive is!

That's just dumb.
posted by emelenjr at 7:46 PM on December 16, 2004


At my paper, only bands, football teams, the police and political parties are plural. Businesses, governmental entities etc are all singular.

(In the UK, btw).
posted by bonaldi at 7:53 PM on December 16, 2004


I'm not sure if this has anything to do with it, but in the law, Corporations are considered a "person" - a separate legal entity from the individuals involved. It's possible over the years press releases and things were run by a busybody attorney, who made sure they said "Company X is . . .", and the marketing people and writers just got used to doing it that way.
posted by sixdifferentways at 9:51 PM on December 16, 2004


a band would be considered singular if its name wasn't obviously plural

I completely agree with this rule. Radiohead is, the Beatles are. The company is, while companies are. Data are, but data is doesn't bother me greatly. The government is, governments are.

It's quite simple, really. If a noun has a plural version, the singular is, the plural are. My government is vs. European governments are.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:19 PM on December 16, 2004


I have been reading so much British English material since the rise of the Web that I've picked up the British usage and it no longer looks odd to me. But I remember when it did. Now the American usage is starting to look odd to me. Hmm.
posted by litlnemo at 12:13 AM on December 17, 2004


If a noun has a plural version, the singular is, the plural are.

Yeah, that makes sense in my opinion. But since when does English make sense? Deal with it.
posted by grouse at 12:40 AM on December 17, 2004


Youse are all a bunch of bloody nitpickers.

(Australian usage)
posted by flabdablet at 4:06 AM on December 17, 2004


Don't think of them as Metallica, think of them as the members of Metallica.
posted by britain at 4:58 AM on December 17, 2004


Doohickie:
And also, wasn't there a MeTa not long ago that said it was better to leave a minor grammatical error lie than to make an extra post to correct it...?

Yes, and I'm not such a pedant that I'd make a new complaint post every time someone's verb and subject disagreed. But this one I've seen so many times, I was honestly curious if it was an accepted usage, even though it grates on me personally.
posted by rkent at 8:55 AM on December 17, 2004


Yeah, TimeFactor, in conversation I'd probably just say "One of the Miami Heat/Red Sox." Or "Red Sock" if I were feeling silly.
posted by dame at 9:10 AM on December 17, 2004


If a noun has a plural version, the singular is, the plural are.

but most of these don't have plural versions. There aren't multiple radioheads. It's a collective noun in itself, describing a group of individuals. I have got used to the british usage over the years - in high school & college, a fair percent of the music I listened to was imported, and zines/reviews usually used the brit. notation, so I got used to it.

It seems like the British version is more logical while the american version is more intuitively applied. That is, when people first started naming bands, they mostly called themselves "so-and-so and the somethings," or just "the somethings", with the somethings commonly being a descriptive (eg, the heartbreakers). At this stage it made sense to refer to each member as one of these. Then names became more metaphorical - the rolling stones weren't literally mineral, but could still each be considered a 'rolling stone'.

In switching to collective noun names (and I would be curious what some of the earliest examples of this were... off the top of my head I can't think of any pre-70s) things were complicated, because if you consider that an "is", then logically "the rolling stones" should be an "is" because you're not referring to them as a group of mobile rocks, but as a band. So sticking with "are" for collective noun names seems more consistent, to me.

re: red sox, the problem with calling them each a 'sock' is that they were red sox the way a pick up game is between the shirts and the skins, because they were each wearing a pair of red sox.

The miami heat thing is funny - seems like the collective noun name progression in sports is some 30 years behind music...
posted by mdn at 10:00 AM on December 17, 2004


Hi. I'm the one who wrote that. I'm not from Massachusetts, I'm from New York by way of Florida.

I generally have a personal policy of using collective nouns as plural, especially, as somebody pointed out, when it comes to band names -- "U2 is" just seems ridiculous to me, whereas "U2 are" just makes sense. And I'm American, though I have studied abroad in London. In the case of the Clear Channel thing, it just came right out that way, possibly due to subconscious music associations.

Man, am I catching a lot of crap for that post. Sorry again about the fact-checking failure re: SFX.
posted by logovisual at 10:57 AM on December 17, 2004


Tangentially connected, bonus question: Why is the team called the Maple Leafs, not the Maple Leaves?
posted by Meatbomb at 4:30 AM on December 18, 2004


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