or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, April 29, 2011


I was reading Slate a few days ago, and over in the sidebar was a link to a Washington Post story about Prince Harry, and even though I honestly don't give a toss about the marriage of his brother, like him a hereditarily rich and powerful person, to the woman he's been seeing on and off for the last few years, I clicked on the link anyway, because Harry is mildly interesting, because without the pressure of being groomed for kingship he appears to be doing something with his life, and also for the obvious fact that unlike his brother he looks quite literally nothing like either of his parents, and is almost certainly not the son of Prince Charles, but instead of James Hewitt. At any rate, the story had some pointless video about wedding dresses captioned as follows:

As London prepares for Britain's Prince William to marry commoner Kate Middleton, bridal shop owners are prepping for the rush of bride-to-be's who may want to copy the soon-to-be princess's style.

What the hell?

What English speaker doesn't instinctively feel that the plural of "bride-to-be" isn't "bride-to-be's", which is wrong in two ways, but "brides-to-be"? What kind of idiot wrote that? And what other idiot let it be published?

In English, it is true, the matter is not completely settled on how to pluralize a compound noun, and never will be: the most usual tack is to pluralize the noun itself, even when the word isn't hyphenated--"passersby"--but Shakespeare wrote "son-in-laws" instead of the more usual "sons-in-law", and some seemingly parallel nouns are pluralized in different ways: "attorneys general" is considered the correct form, but so is "brigadier generals", though they have exactly the same structure. The reason is that "general" is a military title, and in a title such as "brigadier general" or "major-general", both halves are considered nouns rather than one being an adjective as it is with say "governor-general", and the "general" part is the more important and therefore is the one pluralized. Some people disagree with this, so you don't need to take me to task for it if you're one of them, and in fact I don't care which plural you use. I don't even really care if you like the non-standard "passerbys" or "man-o'-wars". If I were your editor I would probably red-pencil them, but in day-to-day use? Do what you like.

Just don't ever, ever use "bride-to-be's". EVER!


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