Linguistics question: Pluralising proper-noun exemplars?

I have a linguistics question for y’all.

Plucked from the WA election commentary last night:

“… electorates such as the Forrestfields, the Wanneroos, the Albanys…”

(These three are some of the closest contests.) The obviously-singular proper nouns are turned into plurals when used in this particular construction – which seems, on the face of it, a rather odd thing to do.

My partner asked whether this usage is specific to Australia, and we wondered whether its usage originated with sports commentary of the type:

“We would be fortunate to have such great sportsmen as the Eamons, or the Bolts, or the Phelpses.”

Election commentators do seem to take some of their linguistic and rhetorical cues from some of the more thinky sports commentators, so this wouldn’t surprise me.

I think I’ve seen this in Britspeak before: “…the Margaret Thatchers of this world…”. It seems akin to the first step along the way to genericisation, perhaps?

Have you noticed this phenomenon before? Have you noticed it outside of Australia? In what contexts?

Categories: language

7 replies

  1. In the election context, does this mean “seats such as Forestfield”? Or does it just mean “Forestfield”? The former interpretation seems unexceptionable to me in American English. The latter would make it quirky and “interesting”. “The Margaret Thatchers of this world” clearly (to me) would have the former interpretation (even in the absence of clearly identifiable other members of the set!).

  2. I’ve seen that construction all the time in the US, in all sorts of contexts.

  3. It’s definitely something which is quite common in the UK, both with proper names (‘The Peels are rather nice people’) as with names of places (‘As one would find in the Londons, Romes and Sydneys of the world).
    It works in some other languages… In French you can refer to people (‘Les Peel sont sympa’) but using it for places (‘Comme on trouve dans les London, les Rome et les Sydney du monde’) sounds a bit weird.
    In a lot of other languages, though, it just doesn’t work! 🙂
    Emily Ss last blog post..APA falsifying prevalence data?

  4. Thanks Alice and Stentor, seems that Brit/AusEng isn’t the only English that does this. Is there a name for it?
    Cheers Emily. Yes, I think “the Peels” is a quite different example, as it denotes a “real life” plural.
    Am very interested to hear about other languages, also.

  5. It’s odd, isn’t it? Where are the “Londons of the world?” There’s London – there isn’t another one. There isn’t another city like London (or Sydney, or Noo Yawk). Each is unique, as is each sportsman and electorate. They have things in common, but it is the things that distinguish these headliners from the others in their class that make them interesting to us.

  6. M-H

    Where are the “Londons of the world?” There’s London – there isn’t another one. There isn’t another city like London (or Sydney, or Noo Yawk).

    Perhaps it’s that quality of uniqueness that marks the ineffable “world city”?
    I can imagine describing a cluster of demographically similar urban precincts as “the Nottinghams” or “the Wollongongs” or “the Le Havres”, but that just doesn’t work for the cities you mention.

  7. Well there’s a London in Canada, Ohio, Kentucky and Minnesota. I don’t think people talking about Londons of the world mean them somehow.

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