A few days ago, a member of the group asked a question about a point of grammar that was apparently causing some friction between her and her editor: “Which is correct: 200 varieties of apple trees or 200 varieties of apple tree?”
An early respondent had me nodding when she wrote: “Tree is better than trees. You’ve already communicated the plural in varieties, so the second plural is redundant.” But then another poster came up with this: “Say ‘a variety of child is in the garden’ or ‘a variety of children are in the garden’ aloud. The ear instantly recognizes the correct answer. Plural form.” Can’t argue with that, I thought. On the other hand… it’s a different usage of variety, isn’t it?
We have a deposed president in Egypt, nuclear tensions in North Korea, and economic instability throughout the world, and yet a bunch of us are pouring our passion into a single letter S. As one poster put it, “I love being a member of the hair-splittin’est group on LinkedIn!”
What makes that S, or its absence, important? For us Homo Pedanticus members, the answer to that question amounts to understanding ourselves. I’d like to think we care about such things because of lofty ideals such as Truth, Beauty and Goodness. A more likely explanation is that we feel hugely impotent to solve the world’s big problems, like disease and detonating bombs, so we turn our angst on a letter.
Or maybe we just have too much time on our hands and need to plow a field or two. There’s nothing like breaking a sweat to put pluralization in perspective. Failing that, there’s always the Gordian knot approach. As one poster, evidently frustrated with the discussion, proposed: “Just rewrite the damn thing: Wow! Look at all those apple trees!”