Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Mass and Count Nouns’ Category

Frings Is Tasty!

Posted by Neal on August 12, 2004

Aha! I’ve now figured out what I should have said during my discussion of frings with Glen and Dad some eight years ago. All that stuff about telic and atelic verbs was tangential–I should have stuck to nouns, and said something like this…

OK, Glen, I’m not against having a word that refers to a heterogeneous mixture of things. I’m happy with mass nouns like salad, succotash,1 beef stew, fruitcake, and trail mix. Even though a lone vegetable or fruit chunk qualifies doesn’t count as salad, I’m OK using salad to refer to a whole bowl of different kinds of vegetable or fruit pieces. But when you use a word with what is obviously a plural-noun ending (to wit, frings), you are asking me to believe that there is a meaning for the singular (fring), and there isn’t one! I’ll accept the word frings if you can convince me that it’s not really a plural count noun–that the -s on the end isn’t really the plural marker, and the word just happens to end with a [z] sound, like quiz does. You can do that by convincing me that you can say all of the following without having to stop and think about your word choice:

  1. Frings is tasty!
  2. I ate too much frings last night.
  3. Why do I eat frings? It tastes good!

Heh, heh. They’re using frings as a plural and they know it. Faced with this argument, they’ll have to concede!

Well, unless they can find some other example of a plural noun whose singular has no meaning, and cite it as a precedent. They might bring up odds and ends, and the joke about “If you only have one left, how do you know if it’s an odd or an end?” But they can’t make a case here. Even if you can never know whether one out of many odds and ends is an odd or an end, presumably it is one of the two. On the other hand, pick up one item from a plate of frings, and it’ll be either a french fry or an onion ring. It won’t be a fring.

1Thanks to both Dad and the professor for that semantics course for independently bringing up this long-suffering example.

Posted in Lexical semantics, Mass and Count Nouns, Portmanteau words, The Fring Cycle | 3 Comments »