At the How Appealing blawg, on June 25, Howard Bashman posted a passage from Judge Richard A. Posner's opinion in the Conrad Black case, including these sentences:
The reference of course is to the legend that ostriches when frightened bury their head in the sand. It is pure legend and a canard on a very distinguished bird.
Mr. Bashman's comment:
[W]hile we are debunking canards (which, by contrast, are birds that can fly), allow me to question the use of the singular "head" in the following sentence from Judge Posner's opinion: "The reference of course is to the legend that ostriches when frightened bury their head in the sand."
On June 26, Mr. Bashman posted an email from Judge Posner:
Dear Prof. Bashman, to say "ostriches hide their heads in the sand" would imply that each ostrich had more than one head.
In this case, my own intuitions are on Mr. Bashman's side. Under the theory that each ostrich has an individual and unique head, different from those of other ostriches, the phrase "Ostriches hide their heads in the sand" seems entirely appropriate, whereas "Ostriches hide their head in the sand" raises distracting questions. What is this head? Perhaps it's the shrunken head of a lion, handed down from their heroic ancestors; or perhaps this phrase refers to their elected or hereditary leader, the Head Ostrich, who must be protected in a siliceous bunker.
But as you know, we don't privilege any one person's linguistic whims, not even mine. Instead, let's look at the precedents.
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