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  1. #1
    Herbdude is offline Newbie
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    Default Idiom Dictionary

    Hi!
    I hope you can give me an authoritative answer, or suggest a good source who might.
    I recently criticized a foreign-language publishing house for titling a book "Idioms Dictionary", rather than "Idiom Dictionary", or, perhaps more simply, "Dictionary of English Idioms". I suggested that this was equivalent to calling a book store a "books store", which is a common English mistake among speakers of Hebrew, in which such a store is, literally "a store of books". The publisher countered that the usage has changed, and that their choice is correct. They attempted to give several examples from important English academic presses, but I showed how the examples actually support my claim.

    Can you enlighten me on this subject?
    Thanks!
    Dr. David Mescheloff

  2. #2
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Idiom Dictionary

    I would simply refer to the implication of the syntactical change of the word idiom within the sentence (the switch from 'dictionary of idioms' to 'idiom dictionary'). In 'idiom dictionary', the noun idiom becomes a modifier, an adjective, and can therefore not have the plural form. Hence, 'idioms dictionary' is incorrect.
    Last edited by bianca; 14-Jun-2007 at 09:57.

  3. #3
    Herbdude is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Idiom Dictionary

    Thanks, Bianca! I agree wholeheartedly with your explanation. Is it possible, however, that there has been a dynamic change in English usage on this point?
    At first blush it seems that several published dictionaries have "idioms" rather than "idiom" in the title.

    NTC American Idioms Dictionary:
    Amazon.com: NTC's American Idioms Dictionary: Books: Richard A. Spears PhD

    Oxford Idioms Dictionary for Learners of English
    Amazon.com: Oxford Idioms Dictionary for Learners of English: Books: Dilys Parkinson,Ben Francis

    Cambridge Idioms Dictionary
    Amazon.com: Cambridge Idioms Dictionary: Books

    The Oxford and Cambridge dictionary titles actually may not to be incorrect. The " Oxford Idioms Dictionary for Learners of English" is actually a combination of three separate word groupings on the book cover, as is clear from the different sized and colored fonts. There is a major, prestigious title: "Oxford"; then there is "Idioms" - what the book is about; finally there is "Dictionary for Learners of English" - the kind of book and the intended audience. I don't believe this title is intended to be read as one continuous phrase. The same may be true of the Cambridge dictionary. As to the NTC dictionary, I admit I'm stymied; is this an error, or has usage changed? On the other hand, I note that the two other NTC dictionaries on the web page referred to above are "NTC's Dictionary of ..." - someone there must not have liked the phrasing in the title of the idiom dictionary.

    Does anyone know of someone at Oxford or at Cambridge who could shed some light on this question?

    Thanks again,

    David

  4. #4
    Herbdude is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Idiom Dictionary

    Whoops!
    I see there's no need to refer to Oxford and Cambridge. Right here on UsingEnglish.com there's a proud advertisement pushing the UsingEnglish "Idiom's Dictionary". Is this cause for shame, in light of Bianca's correct grammatical explanation? See
    http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/en...ictionary.html
    David

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Idiom Dictionary

    Quote Originally Posted by Herbdude View Post
    Whoops!
    I see there's no need to refer to Oxford and Cambridge. Right here on UsingEnglish.com there's a proud advertisement pushing the UsingEnglish "Idiom's Dictionary". Is this cause for shame, in light of Bianca's correct grammatical explanation? See
    http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/en...ictionary.html
    David
    No, it doesn't. You have added an apostrophe that is not there to pour shame on us. BTW, the page itself uses 'Dictionary of English Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions' (this may seem a but redundant, but it helps people using search engines to find the page)

    Secondly, Bianca's rule is not exactly right; we can use use a noun in the plural in many cases when it is functioning as an adjective:

    sports stadium
    women doctors (though 'lady' seems to stay in the singular)

    It is not an absolute rule. If a noun is commonly or usually used in the plural, then we can do it. I would agree with you about the possibility of change; we can be more flexible on this issue, as seen by the publishers. Your analysis of the Oxford Dictionary seems a bit forced to me. Though Cambridge used coloured fonts, I think it is hard to say that these three words are meant to be read separately; it strikes me as a deliberate usage, and an acceptable one.

  6. #6
    Herbdude is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Idiom Dictionary

    Thanks, Tdol, for your very helpful reply. The counterexamples are especially helpful. I wonder whether there's any additional logic to the exception to the rule beyond the one you suggest.
    I apologize for the mistakenly added apostrophe - (and, of all things, inside a quote!) - I have no interest in causing shame - I should have added a smiley to my comment! Those typographical mistakes appear in the strangest places, and at the most inopportune moments (perhaps like your own writing "this may seem a but (sic!) redundant"). Perhaps you unconsciously wanted to butt me!!!

    In any event, genuine thanks. Do you have any more readily available counter-examples to the rule?

  7. #7
    Herbdude is offline Newbie
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    Post Re: Idiom Dictionary

    Thanks again, Tdol, but I've been thinking some more about your counter-examples, and I'm not sure they are good ones.
    In "sports stadium", although "sports" is in a plural form, it is really a singular group concept (somewhat like "fish"), and "women doctors" may be in that form because of the plural "doctors". Neither of those, then, would justify saying "idioms dictionary" (although it could justify saying "idioms dictionaries").
    I guess I'm still not convinced. But I am open to the possibility!
    Best wishes,
    David

  8. #8
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Idiom Dictionary

    David,

    I can't think of any example of an adjective taking a plural, but nouns as adjectives can take plurals, under certain circumstances, so the application of an inaccurate rule is invalid IMO.

    We have stereotypes about women drivers and boy racers. The first changes to the plural and the second doesn't. This is not covered by the rule above, so the rule has to be rewritten to accommodate the facts of language usage, but we have to start by recognising that nouns as adjectives are not always used in the singular.

    Sports in my other example is in a plural form because it's in a plural form and it is casuistry to try to suggest that it is a plural that really wants to be singular so we can reclassify it as such to fit our supposed rule. I don't see that it can be explained away as a singular group concept; does a sports stadium cater for a single sport or a variety?

    I think that we can, in fact, use a plural in some cases to emphasise the plurality, which is what I believe is at work in the idioms dictionary name.

    I also think that there are collocational forces at work; some say that people words can take the plural, but that doesn't explain boy racers. Trousers is normally plural, but we say trouser pockets.

    I am not saying that I can synthesise a rule to explain all of these uses, but I am saying that the view that nouns as adjectives cannot be plural is wrong; it would be better to say that they usually are not.

    On a further note, British English takes a noticeably more relaxed attitude to singular and plural issues; you will hear educated speakers saying things like there's two and there are less. We also tend to use the plural with collective nouns. I honestly think that your font analysis is wide of the mark with the British publishers, and these are the two most senior academic publishers in Britain. I believe that they have done it because the plural feels somehow a more accurate description of the contents.

    Though others may disagree, I am fine with idiom dictionary, and I think I am 'finer' with idioms dictionary. However, I would use phrasal verb dictionary before phrasal verbs dictionary, though Cambridge are more consistent and use the latter.

    I can't honestly explain this foible, but I do believe that you are trying to apply a flawed rule to this; it's not one size fits all, though I cannot generate something that accounts for all the complexities of the issue. There may also be BrE/AE differences in usage at work.

    PS
    "women doctors" may be in that form because of the plural "doctors"
    OK, so how about a women's magazine? The Women's Institute?

    Here, they offer application services provision. You could say that this is because it is application services + provision, but to do that is still to invalidate the universality of the rule you were holding as correct.

    PPS If we had an apostrophe, we'd have an idioms' dictionary.
    Last edited by Tdol; 14-Jun-2007 at 15:55.

  9. #9
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Idiom Dictionary

    What I meant to say is that, basically, an attributive adjectivized noun such as 'idiom' in 'idiom dictionary' cannot take the plural form in English. Let me explain why:

    The examples provided above such as: 'women doctors', 'boy racers' and so on are smth else, they are different constructions, i.e. two-word determinative compounds - in which the relationship between the nouns is not attributive. Their specific role is to classify particular types of things. 'Idiom dictionary' is a descriptive compond, and the noun idiom takes the role of an adjective to describe the noun it precedes. And, descriptive adjectives can only take the singular form.

    But, of course, I may be wrong...
    Last edited by bianca; 14-Jun-2007 at 17:14.

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Idiom Dictionary

    You can equally say that idiom/s role is to classify- the type of dictionary. I would say that 'pocket dictionary' is more attributive. Also, when a noun functions as an adjective, does it truly become a descriptive adjective? If so, why don't they display full adjectival functionality; after all, can many of them form comparatives and superlatives? Because they display some characteristics it doesn't necessarily follow that they are bound by exactly the same rules. And usage suggests that they don't. Oxford and Cambridge both use the plural form.
    Last edited by Tdol; 15-Jun-2007 at 08:56.

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