Okay, so today’s the day for dangerously-obsessional language-issue blogging. Get those safety helmets firmly on, tighten the chinstraps, and we’ll proceed.
Sitting in The Pantry yesterday, as a bit of a breather from the last day of our Big Move to Santa Monica, I was having their yummy sausage, fried potatoes, sourdough toast, and scrambled egg.
Except, rewind that last bit. I wasn’t having scrambled ‘egg’ – as I would have done in Britain. I was having scrambled ‘eggs’. It’s not ‘bacon and egg’; it’s ‘bacon and eggs’. It’s not ‘sausage and egg’; it’s ‘sausage and eggs’. Granted, I was having more than one egg, but they’d been, well, they’d been scrambled, so what was left was, um, well, it was egg.
I’m probably extrapolating wildly here, but here’s a question: Is there a tendency in US English to prefer count nouns over mass nouns? At least in situations of ambiguity?
There’s a more obvious example. More than one sport makes, of course, ‘sports’, pretty much everywhere. But the field of endeavour that encompasses all sports splits British and American English neatly down the middle. In British English, the field of endeavour is ‘sport’. In American English the field of endeavour (ahem, endeavor) is ‘sports’. Hence Dickie Davies presenting a cheesy ’70s Saturday afternoon programme in Britain called ‘World of Sport’. Might seem to an American to involve only the one sport. (Though British viewers of a certain age would be excused for remembering that it did seem to only show one ‘sport’ – and here the quotes do double duty since the sport in question was wrestling.) Whereas Howard Cosell’s US gig was ‘Wide World of Sports’.
And here’s another. The stuff that the Lego company makes, seems to be commonly referred to in American English as ‘Legos’. In Britain – you’re ahead of me now – it’s just ‘Lego’. If the stuff is ‘Legos’, what would one Lego be? One of the bricks, I suppose. In Britain a Lego brick is just a Lego brick.
See? Egg. Eggs. Sport. Sports. Lego. Legos. What’s going on here? How did this come about?
If there is genuinely a preference for count nouns in US English, it might go somewhere towards explaining the bizarre reverse engineering of the singular word ‘kudo’, from ‘kudos’. ‘Kudos’ certainly superficially looks like it’s a plural, even though it isn’t. Legos, kudos. And if it’s a plural, then there must be a singular, right? Many kudos. One kudo.