"Sons of a bitches"

« previous post | next post »

In his 9/22/2017 rally speech in Huntsville, Alabama, Donald Trump said

Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners
when somebody disrespects our flag
to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now —
out, he's fired.

This posed a question for people who wanted to speak up in support of the football players he was threatening: What's the plural of "son of a bitch"?

I always thought it was "sons of bitches", but a surprising number of people decided on "sons of a bitches" instead. (See "Plurals", 9/22/2013, for some additional context.)




  1. J said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 5:24 pm

    Only some stupid sons of bitches would spell it 'sons of a bitches'…

  2. Rod Johnson said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

    J, I imagine you think you're hilarious, but really?

  3. Daughter-of-a-bitches said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 5:51 pm

    Not sons-of-a-bitch? Like mothers-in-law?

  4. Maude said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 6:16 pm

    Son of a gun, they're trying to be French! (and failing)

  5. Q. Pheevr said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 6:26 pm

    What's the plural of "son of a bitch"?

    I think it depends on whether they’re brothers, doesn’t it?

  6. Martha said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 6:28 pm

    Daugther-of-a-bitches, "sons-of-a-bitch" only works, in my mind, if the SOBs in question share one mother.

    I have a very vivid memory of being a child and hearing my dad say "son of a bitches" and thinking that was not right at all. "Sons of bitches" is much better to me. However, "sumbitches" doesn't offend my senses.

  7. Martha said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 6:30 pm

    Oh also, "sons of a bitches," with both plural reminds me of "your guys's" with it's two possessives, which has always annoyed me (not that I don't say it myself).

  8. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 6:50 pm

    I've almost always heard "sonsabtiches."

  9. Brett said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 7:33 pm

    I would take the authoritative version to be Kenneth Bainbridge's (as reported by J. Robert Oppenheimer), "Now we are all sons of bitches."

  10. John Swindle said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 9:39 pm

    The old courtroom joke doesn't work if the plural isn't "son of a bitches."

  11. zafrom said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 10:00 pm

    I'm now wondering which courtroom, and when. But speaking of the love of removing one of the owners: In 1942 Preston Sturges (via John D. Hackensacker III in The Palm Beach Story) noted, "That's one of the tragedies of this life – that the men who are most in need of a beating up are always enormous." And standing behind an entire offensive line.

    For those wondering about the late 19th century ("Plurals", 9/22/2013, above), the 9/22/2013 headlines are from the New York Times — "Darkness Ending a Game" is from Tuesday, June 8, 1886, and "Base Ball Yesterday" is from Tuesday, July 8, 1884. (Thank you Google for at least those.) I didn't see a writer listed for either article.

    1884's game between the White Stockings and the Gothams was played in Chicago. Its description of the game in the July 8 Chicago Tribune notes that "The Chicagos showed that they can play ball by shutting out the New Yorks yesterday without a run." The New York Times ran basically the same article, with some grammatical changes, noting after "Chicago, July 7.–" that "The Chicagos to-day showed that they can play baseball occasionally by shutting out the New-Yorks without a run." Chicago won the 1884 season series 12-3, speaking of ownage.

  12. John Roth said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 11:13 pm

    I wouldn't think the plural takes an indefinite article?

  13. D.O. said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 11:15 pm

    Our adorable president starts the last line with (somewhat muted, maybe because he turned away from the mike) "he is" making it a lovely crescendo to "fired!"

  14. John Swindle said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 12:19 am

    The jury brought in their verdict, the judge confirmed it, and the defendant muttered something. "What did you say?" the judge demanded. "Your honor," the defense attorney replied, "my client says he's got dandruff, and some of it itches."

  15. Lazar said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 12:34 am

    Myself, I associate "son of a bitches" with the cinematic masterpiece Samurai Cop (0:49).

  16. Robert T McQuaid said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 4:34 am


  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 6:55 am

    For pluralizing a similar but non-pejorative construction, it turns out from some quick googling that both "sons of preacher men" and "sons of a preacher man" are Out There. There was only one hit for "sons of a preacher-men," which may make it possible to classify that as a typo/error rather than an additional genuine variant. Obviously there may be some semantic difference between the two main variants driven by whether the multiple sons are understood (literally or metaphorically) to have multiple fathers versus a single father.

  18. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 7:15 am

    In the song "The Begat" from "Finian's Rainbow," Yip Harburg wrote the line "Sons of habitues begat." I understand it comes from a vaudeville joke.

  19. richardelguru said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 7:31 am

    The BBC site had a content warning on its video of Trump's comment.
    Is this a first for a POTUS?

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 8:48 am

    Here in northern New Mexico, it can be "sanamabiches".

    On another note,

    "Ed explained to me
    That the little son of bitches
    (He has several mothers, though few)
    Cut you down."

    James Wright, "Larry"

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

    I had initially thought (because of reading too quickly) that it was Pres. Trump who had offered an innovative or non-standard plural but now I see that he was speaking in the singular and it is his twitter-based critics (maybe largely from the subset of twitter users who do not review and edit their draft tweets before posting them?) who are the innovators here.

    Moreover, it seems on reflection that the President's use of the singular may have been deliberate – rather than saying "fire all those SOB's!" (which presumably would have been an applause line for some portion of his base) he was perhaps suggesting (not necessarily accurately) that one employer firing one employee would be sufficient to change the dynamics of the situation and get everyone else to fall in line. Hmm. Fall in line? Is that one of those up/down metaphors that belongs in the other thread related to the same tempest in our current-events teapot?

  22. chris said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 4:26 pm

    one employer firing one employee would be sufficient to change the dynamics of the situation and get everyone else to fall in line.
    Pour descourager les autres?

    And I don't think "fall in" in the formation-marching sense involves actual falling, at least not usually. But I don't know its etymology.

    As for the original topic, I'm firmly in the "sons of bitches" camp, except maybe the rare case where you can accurately say "sons of a bitch" (because you are actually talking about brothers).

  23. Ethan said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 5:02 pm

    @chris: "pour encourager les autres", if we're talking this best of all possible worlds. But Trump's style is more reminiscent of another historical example: "Who will rid me of these meddlesome protesters/critics/quarterbacks?"

  24. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

    I'm pretty sure that etymologically there's only one "fall," but some of its senses are enough metaphorical steps removed from physical downward motion (e.g. "Easter fell on April 16 this year") that the connection is not obvious at first glance, and whatever just-so story about a plausible metaphor one might come up with to justify the extended sense might not match up with the actual history of the usage.

  25. Andrew Usher said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

    As far as I see, there can be three standard plurals: "sons of bitches" (most common), "sons of a bitch" (as stated above, generally implies same mother), and "son of a bitches" (treating son-of-a-bitch as a single unit, as it really is).

    "Sons of a bitches" can only be a plain mistake.

    And yes, Trump was thinking exactly that: fire one, and the others fall in line. Because that's how it works in business; companies don't and can't fire everybody; they only need the threat of it to exert power.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  26. Crawdad Tom said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 11:55 pm

    Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, 1935:

    "Great God," one says; "what they got in that wagon?"

    Jewel whirls. "Son of a bitches," he says.

  27. maidhc said,

    September 26, 2017 @ 12:33 am

    Black Bart, the notorious stagecoach robber, left the following poem at the scene of a holdup in 1877:

    I've labored long and hard for bread,
    For honor, and for riches,
    But on my corns too long you've tread,
    You fine-haired sons of bitches.

  28. Frank Southworth said,

    September 26, 2017 @ 5:45 pm

    I'm reminded of the phrase "the habitues and the sons of habitues".

  29. Ellen K. said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 10:58 am

    I wonder of those who say or write "sons of a bitches" are somehow reanalyzing (miss-analyzing?) "of a" as a single unit.

  30. Andrew Usher said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 9:35 pm

    Why would 'of a' be realised as a unit but not 'son of a' ('sunuva')?

    On the other hand, it's plausible as a written-only explanation, I suppose, if you're 'illiterate' enough.

RSS feed for comments on this post