A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, April 22, 2004 :::
Readers of this blog will know that the current Secretary of Defense will not find much to cheer him here, for which A Mind That Suits asks his readers’ indulgence. But on one score Mr. Rumsfeld cannot be faulted: the brilliant clarity of his language. In other contexts, he could be forgiven a lot just for having come up with “Axis of Weasels,” but we are not, alas, in any other contexts. Still, the man has a remarkable way with words.

Which brings us to adjectives. In English, they are always singular. You will find them, in the grammar books, referred to as “invariable,” by which grammarians mean that the word “blue” does not become “blues” when you have two “blue houses.”

Two blues houses would be two nightclubs, but let us leave that aside for the moment.

Let us, rather, keep focused on “invariable,” for that is an inexact description. Consider these examples: a man who is six fEEt tall and a book with two hundred pageS. When those nouns are pressed into service as adjectives, the man becomes a “six-fOOt tall man” and the book a “two-hundred-page book,” with no “s” attached to “page.” The plural nouns become singular adjectives, in other words. They vary, so they are not invariable, but they are indisputably singular.

And WMD is indisputably plural.

Indeed, James Taranto over at Best of the Web recently ran some letters, including one from a serviceman looking for WMD, and the gentleman-in-arms used WMD as a plural term.

A Mind That Suits has always maintained that WMD is indeed a plural term, and so is happy to see that confirmed by WMD experts.

But wait. In the phrase ‘WMD experts,” isn’t “WMD” then a singular term. Indeed, it must be.

Which brings us back to our bitingly clear Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Rumsfeld appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on September 18, 2002, to explain the Administration’s position on Iraq. And this is how he summarized the main issue:

“Do we believe it is our responsibility to wait for a weapon of mass destruction 9-11, or is it the responsibility of free people to do something, to take steps to deal with such a threat before such an attack occurs?”

A Mind That Suits objects to Mr. Rumsfeld’s way of conducting war, but he cannot gainsay his general sentiments, with which he concurs wholeheartedly.

Nor can he gainsay his English. Although the transriber should have put hyphens after the first three words, giving us "weapon-of-mass-destruction 911," the Secretary’s phrasing is impeccable. WeaponS of mass destruction is used as an adjective, and so it must become singular.

This rule, by the way, is one of the reasons English is very hard to teach. The rule “adjectives are invariable” is easy for most people to learn. “Adjectives must be singular” is not.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 8:16 PM



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