or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rule Brittannia

I'm in London and it is fucking awesome. Now I understand Samuel Johnson's famous saying: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." It's like every city I've ever been in, all added up together. If money were no object, I would move here in a heartbeat. (In addition to its awesomeness, it's expensive.)

But more of that later, maybe. Yesterday we were in Hyde Park, and there was a sign commemorating the milestones of the park, one of which was as follows (yes, of course I wrote it down):

1705: 100 acres of Hyde Park was enclosed to extend the palace gardens and create deer paddocks.

I have a problem with "100 acres...was enclosed". "100 acres" seems like a plural noun, and therefore ought to take a plural verb. Don't you think?

Well, maybe not. The English seem to treat group nouns differently from the way North Americans treat them. As I noted once before (but don't have the resources to look up right now), nouns that represent collections of things are treated as if they're plural: "the team are coming over tonight," they might say, which just isn't correct in North American English. Perhaps there are similar rules, in the opposite direction, about which I don't know.

Secondly, I can think of situations in which measures of distance are treated as singular rather than plural. "100 miles is a long way to go" is entirely correct in NA English: in fact, the plural verb would seem very strange to our ears. On the other hand, there are situations in which we would indicate plurality for those same 100 miles: when we wanted to specify their individuality rather then their unitary nature, as in "He felt every one of those 100 miles." If it were a group, an object, we'd have to say "that" rather than "those".

I imagine the reason the sign seems wrong to me is that it's the sort of mistake people make all the time: they start with a plural noun ("100 acres"), follow it with a singular noun ("Hyde Park"), and then get the verb wrong because they forgot to follow the basic rules of subject-verb agreement. I thought about it a lot, and I still think the sign sounds wrong. Maybe it sounds right to British ears. I'll have to find out. When I get back, maybe.

Oh, and the computer keyboards have the @ symbol where the " symbol ought to be, and vice versa. It's dreadfully confusing. If there are mistakes in this posting, that's part of it. I also don't have access to a spell-checker, at least not one that I trust. Any mistakes get fixed after I return.


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