Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Band Names--Singular or Plural?

Parsnipgirl took me to task over this disturbing thought:

2. R.E.M. weren't THAT bad. Especially their earlier stuff

She claims that rock band names are always singular*. I had no idea. I find "R.E.M. wasn't that bad." questionable at best. And my intuition is that most band names trigger plural agreement on the verb.

I did some Google counts with different types of band names (I left out obvious polurals like "The Rolling Stones" or "The Sex Pistols") to see what everyone else thinks. Here are the results.
Search terms                            Ghits
"R.E.M. were" 28,000
"R.E.M. was" 62,000

"XTC were" 565
"XTC was" 11,600

"ACDC were" 836
"ACDC was" 2,760

"The Clash were" 43,100
"The Clash was" 49,700

"The Who were" 52,000
"The Who was" 88,900

"Steppenwolf were" 1,900
"Steppenwolf was" 555

"Black Flag were" 1
"Black Flag was" 11

"Credence Clearwater Revival were" 41
"Credence Clearwater Revival was" 37

"Nirvana were" 31,200
"Nirvana was" 85,700

"Joy Division were" 9,180
"Joy Division was" 10,700

"Funkadelic were" 1,770
"Funkadelic was" 593

"Husker Du were" 501
"Husker Du was" 418

"Soundgarden were" 758
"Soundgarden was" 10,800

Man, these are all over the place. There are a lot of confounding factors affecting these Ghit counts because many band names are homophonous with other words. "XTC", "Credence Clearwater Revival", "Husker Du", "Joy Division", "Funkadelic", and "Soundgarden" seem to give the clearest data.

Of all the names, only "Steppenwolf", "Funkadelic", and "Husker Du" have a clear majority of plural Ghits.

To try and get around the ambiguity problem I tested the same group of bands with the verb rule. I figure this is more likely to get me to rock n' roll contexts. Here are the results:
Search term                             Ghits
"R.E.M. rule" 446
"R.E.M. rules" 1240

"XTC rule" 21
"XTC rules" 411

"ACDC rule" 219
"ACDC rules" 1770

"The Clash rule" 260
"The Clash rules" 82

"The Who rule" 762
"The Who rules" 852

"Steppenwolf rule" 4
"Steppenwolf rules" 320

"Black Flag rule" 1
"Black Flag rules" 11

"Credence Clearwater Revival rule" 41
"Credence Clearwater Revival rules" 37

"Nirvana rule" 31,200
"Nirvana rules" 85,700

"Joy Division rule" 9,180
"Joy Division rules" 10,700

"Funkadelic rule" 1,770
"Funkadelic rules" 593

"Husker Du rule" 501
"Husker Du rules" 418

"Soundgarden rule" 758
"Soundgarden rules" 10,800

Of these, "The Clash", "Funkadelic" and "Husker Du" have clear plural majorities. So there is some overlap. I think "The Clash" data point can be explained by the fact that British English treats all of these as plurals and there are probably more British Websites claiming that "The Clash Rule!"

*See Arnold Zwicky's timely Language Log post on "singular" and "plural" in English nouns.


Eric said...

I'm totally with parsnipgirl on this one -- no band name for me is plural. That said, those band names that have plural marking (e.g., the Stones) can be used to represent the individual members (1), in which case there's plural agreement, or the band (2), in which case there's singular agreement.

(1) The Rolling Stones are/*is really getting too old to keep touring like this.
(2) The Rolling Stones is/*are such an old band.

Know what I'm sayin'?

liberal elite said...

Wow, why am I so weird? I really like plural agreement for band names. Singular agreement varies between good (but optional) and awful except for Steppenwolf--maybe because it is clearly marked singular (Although definite singular names are necessarily plural for me).

Andreina De Freitas said...

I think it should be singular. Why?

For example:

I can say "Linkin Park IS a good band" .. Now let's as some questions:

What is good? > Linkin Park
What is Linkin Park? > A band. ONE BAND. Therefore you'd refer to them as singular.

Would you say "that band are good"? No, because ARE wouldn't belong to a singular noun.

"Mark is a good person"

Who is good? > Mark
What is Mark? > a person, ONE person.

It's the same thing, but in two different situations. -Insert band name here- is to "band" as "Mark" would be to "person", they are names that specify the things.

Another further example would be:

"Metallica rules. They are amazing"

Why "rules" and then "They?". The first part I already explained it, now for the second, you could argue that with "They" I am referring to "THE BAND" (singular) but if you think about it in a more strict way, it's actually referring to THE MEMBERS than conform the band (plural) rather THE GROUP as a whole (singular). It's something that goes implicit in language and we might not catch up right away or go unnoticed.

However I can agree with Eric and his argument on band names which plural marking, that is a good point.

And also, I couldn't read people adressing band names in plural and say they are "WRONG", it's just that only that I, particularly, would address them in singular.

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