## Peeve emergence: The case of "vinyls"

If you don't hang out with millennial hipsters, you might not have noticed that the cool kids are listening to music on turntables playing old-fashioned vinyl records, with many of these records being newly released rather than rescued from thrift shops. And you might also have missed a fascinating case of peeve emergence: the "rule" that one of these objects is called a "vinyl", while (say) three of them should be called "three vinyl", never "three vinyls". According to this"rule", instead of "many of these records", I could have written "many of these vinyl", but not "many of these vinyls". This is an issue that some people feel very strongly about.

Thus Dave Segal, "What Is the Plural of Vinyl?", 12/28/2010:

This issue came to my attention twice yesterday: once on Twitter, where someone griped about people using the term "vinyls" to describe more than one record; the other instance occurred while perusing Sonic Boom's holiday zine, in which a clerk informed its readers that vinyl is indeed the plural term for vinyl (the same principle applies to fish, buffalo, and sperm).

I am guilty of occasionally using vinyls, but it's always deployed in a tongue-in-cheek manner. When you know the rules, you can break them—but only once every three months. It's in the manual. Trust me.

"The plural of vinyl is vinyl", Drowned in Sound 2/23/2012:

Just a heads-up, so you can stop saying/typing "vinyls". Cos doing so makes you sound like you buy your music exclusively from Urban Outfitters.

No need to apologise. We've all been out of our depth at one point or other. And we learn from our mistakes, yeah?

Some other plural options: records, LPs, albums, vinyl records.

This has been a public service announcement. Thank you for your avoidance of this increasingly widespread "vinyls" wrongness.

"vinyls" 6/1/2012

having a bit of an argument with someone that has only just started buying records that the plural of vinyl is vinyl. not vinyls. but he went to uni and is about 20 so obviously he is right. anything i can say to shut him up?  is vinyls a real word?

"Amputechture vinyls", The Comatorium 5/11/2012:

Man, I hate to be the school marm but…  "Vinyls" is not a word. The plural of vinyl is "vinyl" like deer is the word for multiple deer. Or you could say records.  Not trying to be a jerk, just educating. I've been on some forums where people are tarred & feathered for saying "vinyls."

How many vinyls do you have?

Vinyl.

What?

The plural of "vinyl" is "vinyl".  To answer the previous question, though, we have about 12,000 LPs in stock, as well as some assorted 12" singles and 45s.

Comment on unkut.com:

That’s cool man. I’m a wax fiend too. But just so you know there is no such word as “vinyls.” The plural of vinyl happens to be vinyl and I’ve never heard someone with a vinyl collection use the term “vinyls.” Usually its some mp3 downloading kid who has never held a record in their life saying this incorrect and highly frustrating word.

And so on, and on, and on.

There's even a eponymous web site thepluralofvinyl.com — which would be more convincing if it didn't misspell "independent":

Show your support in the fight against vinyls with a plural of vinyl shirt, available at  your local independant [sic] record store …

This is a lovely peevological case study.  In the first place, of course, the "rule" is a doubtful one at best. Vinyl is a mass noun, like beer or cheese or glass, and as such, it doesn't have a plural. Not having a plural is basically what being a "mass noun" means — a mass noun refers to stuff that comes in variable but conceptually undifferentiated quantities that are measured rather than counted.

But English also has a general morphological process that Arnold Zwicky has called "Countification", whereby the plural form of a mass noun can be used to refer to more than one type or instance of the named category of stuff.  Thus we can talk about "Mexican beers" to refer to brands of beer associated with Mexico; and you can give your order to a waiter by saying "two beers".

Countification has become lexicalized in the case of some mass nouns, like beers, wines, cheeses, waters, bronzes, rubbers, and so on.. But it's available in principle for pretty much any mass noun, where NOUNs might be used to mean "types of NOUN" or "instances of NOUN".  Thus (members of the gang aside) blood doesn't have a common countified plural bloods, but the 1854 Notes of M. Bernard's Lectures on the Blood tells us that "All the analyses already given have been general, as others will be given hereafter when the blood of particular parts, or when particular bloods are described"; and also that "… in this respect all bloods do not resemble each other"; and that "The distinction of color does not exist in the foetus; in it both bloods [i.e. arterial and venous] have exactly the same tint". You may be able to think of a mass noun that can't plausibly be countified, but I haven't come up with one.

What about the zero-plurals like deer, fish, sheep, shrimp, etc.? Does vinyl belong in that group? As far as I know, the only significant regularity there is the zero-plural-for-game-animals pattern discussed in "The European Council legislates English morphology", 10/5/2003;  "We have deer and elk and bear and mice around here", 5/26/2004; "Psycholinguistics in the logging industry", 6/6/2004; "Chad back in the news", 5/30/2008.  But vinyl records are not exactly game animals; except that maybe, on second thought, the folks who administer tar and feathers to users of "vinyls" are also people who hang a brace of vinyl on their wall as a sort of hunting trophy.

Another pocket of  regularly zero-plural nouns is ethnonyms in -ese: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese – vinyl is clearly not a member of that group. And there are a few zero-plural units of currency: yen, yuan, rand, … Beyond that, there are sporadic examples like cannon and aircraft.

So "the plural of vinyl is 'vinyl'" is an invented "rule", more or less the opposite of the general patterns in the language, which a convinced minority has promoted to the point where "people are tarred and feathered for saying 'vinyls'" in some settings. This is an unusually pure case of peevological emergence, without either tradition or logic on its side, and also (as far as i can tell) without any single authoritative figure behind the idea.

[Vinyl image from Statistical Fiction]

1. ### Ray Girvan said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

That is quite surprising. I was born in 1956, andI recall "vinyls" (= "vinyl records") to go back decades (I particularly remember the term from New Musical Express in my early teens). Google Books confirms:

"While a few audio purists might quibble over the fidelity of some of the vintage vinyls …" – Time magazine, Volume 84, 1964

"When the LP development began, Mendelssohn had the albums remade as ten-inch single vinyls" – The Atlantic, Volume 205, 1960

2. ### Chris Waters said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:15 pm

I'm pretty sure that chemists use the plural "vinyls" when referring to multiple compounds in the vinyl family.

3. ### tudza said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:28 pm

Thanks for doing the maths.

4. ### Tom V said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:31 pm

But are they LP's, 45's (both of which I can play on my turntable), or 78's (which I cannot)?
Aside: In Rose Macaulay's Towers of Trebizond one character states that the plural of wolf is "wolf" when people are hunting them, but "wolves" when they are hunting people.

5. ### Richard Hershberger said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:33 pm

This would seem, at least by first impression, to be as clear an example of artificial linguistic in-group snobbery as we could ask for. People who favor vinyl records are a self-defined in-group to begin with, and here we have a fake linguistic rule to further establish who is in and (more importantly) who is out. I wonder if its precise origin can be established. Also, what will they invent next, should plural "vinyl" actually catch on to the extent that it no longer serves its purpose.

6. ### Richard Hershberger said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

Also, in the unlikely event that I find myself in the midst of this crowd, I will be sure to use "vinyls" as frequently as possible.

7. ### Jon Weinberg said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:35 pm

The definition for vinyl in OS X's built-in dictionary (apparently the New Oxford American) includes the example "light-reflecting vinyls can be hung in the usual way". That suggests that, in some contexts, vinyl's countification is uncontroversial.

8. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

I started buying vinyl (only a mass noun in my idiolect for this context) again in a serious way in 2005 (why yes, that was the year I turned 40 – sheer coincidence . . .), so that e.g. I could acquire all the 45's (plural of a count noun) that I would have bought in junior high school had I not been so poor. I find the use of vinyl as a count noun in this context bizarre (although I appreciate Ray Girvan's interesting early cites), and reserve the right to be grumpy at these Young People and their incomprehensible slang.

9. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:56 pm

So more specifically, I can't say "many of these vinyl" or "many of these vinyls" in my idiolect, only "much of this vinyl."

10. ### John Lawler said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:56 pm

@Tom V — if I recall correctly, 78's were made of shellac or some other substance, and were easily frangible, whereas 45's and 33's were truly made of vinyl and didn't break often, though you could crack them under torsion.

11. ### Don Sample said,

June 12, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

I've got a copy of the Live Nature Library book "The Fishes", so fish is not exactly a zero plural word.

[(myl) In your Live Nature Library book, I bet the fishes are not game animals…]

12. ### Brad said,

June 12, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

Now I know I'm old–I think the plural of "vinyl" should be "records". :(

13. ### rob said,

June 12, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

Vinyl is the material (some) records are made of, not the object itself. You wouldn't say "I bought a vinyl" or, "I bought 3 vinyls", but rather, I bought a record (or 3).

If someone happens to ask what the record you bought is made of, feel free to bring vinyl up in your response, if it's appropriate.

14. ### Rod Johnson said,

June 12, 2012 @ 9:25 pm

I have encountered similar vehemence upon using the word "legos," which, according to many lego enthusiasts is an American barbarism (or perhaps just a barbarism in general).

15. ### Dave M. said,

June 12, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

It seems to me that "nylons" is a similar example to "vinyls". The product made from the material is shortened to just the name of the material, and then this mass noun is countificated (or whatever you wish to call it) into a more standard plural noun form.

16. ### Rod Johnson said,

June 12, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

…which, oops, I see is covered in the comments of the Drowned in Sound link…

17. ### RodMcGuire said,

June 12, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

And vinyl records are not exactly game animals

Yeah? I believe they are related to the Nauga from which we get Naugahyde.

18. ### Kenny Easwaran said,

June 12, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

On seeing someone mention "lego" I was reminded that "Euro" is also supposed to have a zero plural, despite also not being a game animal.

If it turns out that most of the people talking about vinyl are far enough into the culture to pick up this zero plural, then I wonder if this will become a productive pattern for some category other than game animals.

19. ### Faldone said,

June 12, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

I believe the rule for fish is: single species, multiple individuals, plural = fish; multiple species, multiple individuals, plural =
fishes.

20. ### steve downey said,

June 12, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

W.r.t game animals, when referring to several species of fish, fishes is conventionally used. E.g. "carp and catfish are fishes that do not have limits in these waters."

21. ### Bruce said,

June 12, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

On countification, why is it that I hear people refer to 'two beer,' when referring to two bottles (of the same beer)?

e.g. "I'd like two beer" and "Pass me two beer".

I think I mainly observed this in Canada and possibly the USA. It seems wrong to me – I want it to either be a proper mass noun (in which case 'two bottles of beer') or it should be pluralized by adding an s.

22. ### MattF said,

June 12, 2012 @ 11:42 pm

@Kenny Easwaran

Hmm, So, "A $20 lunch costs$20" is spoken as "A twenty dollar lunch costs twenty dollars" but "A €20 lunch costs €20" is spoken as "A twenty euro lunch costs twenty euro"? I can see why the gods might be angry at the euro. And a 'Dollar Store' is a store where everything costs one dollar, and not a store where all prices are in dollars. What would a 'Euro Store' be?

23. ### Spectre-7 said,

June 13, 2012 @ 12:42 am

What would a 'Euro Store' be?

Well, I'd wager it's not in the native language of any country that uses the Euro, for one. ;)

24. ### maidhc said,

June 13, 2012 @ 12:59 am

There was a sports commentator on the CBC back in the 1970s who went by the name of Joe Fan, and one of his peculiarities was that he always used the singular form of nouns in a plural context. Now I don't remember which form of the verb he used: "There were three good fight in the Leafs game last night" or "was". (But of course the Leafs, the Habs, etc. would still have to be plural.)

In Irish (and presumably Scots Gaelic as well) if you specify a number, the noun is always singular. But whether this might have influenced English in Canada or the US is a question.

To my way of thinking, the hippest plural for "vinyl" is "sides".

25. ### Ian Tindale said,

June 13, 2012 @ 1:41 am

We should all immediately and henceforth adopt the usage of “vinylii”, in a knowing tone that implies that we know.

26. ### Joshua said,

June 13, 2012 @ 1:44 am

Spectre-7: A Euro Store would be extremely unlikely in the UK … but quite plausible in Ireland, where English is an official language and the most common language.

131. ### LH said,

June 15, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

The true snobs among us will know that the proper term for a full-length album released on vinyl is 'LP.' And when I go to a hipster record shop, I buy multiple LPs. If you don't feel like outing yourself as a total arse-hat, the term to use is "record." Vinyl records. Records. Whatever you wanna call 'em.

132. ### Russell said,

June 15, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

@ marie-lucie

Though I find it highly odd, countable plastic 'credit/debit card' does seem to happen.

– An unsuitable reward credit card can bring financial troubles, as a plastic with rewards, as a rule, has high interest rates.

– You have good credit and now you can choose a plastic from a wide range of credit card offers.

But Google has given me some truly ridiculous results:

– You are given the opportunity to select any reward plastic.

What the? Anyway, a lot of the ghits are from possibly sketchy credit card advice sites, possibly from non-native speakers, but some seem to be regular old blogs.

133. ### Victoria Simmons said,

June 15, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

"You are given the opportunity to select any reward plastic."

Is this a reference to credit-card rewards tie-ins, such as frequent flier miles? Or is it a reference to the rewards cards that many retailers offer that supposedly give you perks for shopping at their stores?

I've never heard the later referred to as plastic, much less plastics, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised. (I know some adults who give the extra copy to their small children to keep as pretend credit cards. Like THAT'S a good idea. . .)

134. ### suntzuanime said,

June 15, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

In my own particular snobbish aesthetic subculture, the plural of "anime" is "anime", so maybe there is some regularity here after all!

135. ### Victoria Simmons said,

June 15, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

@suntzuanime–

Isn't the plural of samurai, samurai? And the plural of ninja, ninja? My three minutes of research on the internet persuades me that most Japanese plural nouns take zero-plural forms. I especially like this site, which seems to have been created by a generic language-teaching program. "It's very important to understand how the plural is used in everyday Japanese!" And then lists where the plural is the same as the singular.
http://mylanguages.org/japanese_plural.php

I think with "s. anime, pl. anime" the zero-plural form shows consistency in adopting nouns from Japanese, rather than consistency across snobbish aesthetic subcultures.

136. ### Bob Violence said,

June 16, 2012 @ 12:40 am

Isn't the plural of samurai, samurai? And the plural of ninja, ninja?

In Japanese, yes. But the source language isn't the sole determiner of the English plural forms–it's not like you hear people going around on a regular basis ordering "three large pizze." To my ear, "samurais" and especially "animes" sound weird (I notice that "animes" triggers Firefox's spellchecker), but "ninjas" sounds perfectly normal, perhaps because it's especially prevalent in English and has undergone a more thorough "countification."

137. ### Bob Violence said,

June 16, 2012 @ 1:03 am

@myl:

You could perfectly well encode a digital signal in a microgroove vinyl record — though it would be a stupid thing to do.

This has in fact been done, though for extremely limited purposes. Special vinyl(s) with binary timecode signals are used with vinyl emulation software like Final Scratch and Torq.

138. ### bingobangoboy said,

June 16, 2012 @ 3:48 am

Other instances of encoding digital information in the groove of a music record (beginning in the 1970s!) are documented here:
http://www.kempa.com/2004/03/09/vinyl-data/

139. ### Victoria Simmons said,

June 16, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

@bobviolence–

Googling "many ninjas," I get 61,500 ghits. Googling "many ninja," I get 82,100. So I would say the two forms are roughly equally familiar to English speakers, with the Japanese plural having a possible edge.

140. ### Thomas said,

June 16, 2012 @ 11:11 pm

I find it interesting that the people speaking out about "proper usage" of the word vinyl are so unconcerned about other prescriptivist rules.

For example:
"Cos" for because
lower-case "i"
sentence fragments
(check the first few examples)

Therefore, it seems as if the in-group is really displaying both a rebellion against prescriptivist norms while at the same time creating their own prescriptivist solidarity. Vinyl/vinyls is a modern shibboleth. You are either in or out, and this group is clearly defining itself.

141. ### Bob Violence said,

June 16, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

The problem with that comparison is that a huge number of the "many ninja" results are part of other phrases — the first page shows only two uses of "many ninja" as in "a lot of ninja," while the rest are things like "many ninja Gaiden 3 owners," "too many ninja threads," "how many ninja Turtles are there," etc. Randomly jumping to page 8, I again see only two "genuine" uses of "many ninja." "Many ninjas" doesn't pose quite the same the problem, although a major proportion of the results are related to a Flash game called "Too Many Ninjas."

142. ### Victoria Simmons said,

June 17, 2012 @ 3:34 am

@Bob Violence

Oh, dear, that is a problem. I've been trying to think of a different string to use, but they're all susceptible to the same limitation. Stupid noun-adjectives. . .

143. ### Jon Weinberg said,

June 17, 2012 @ 7:38 pm

BV & VS, there are Japanese-derived words that plainly take an "s" plural in English — folks uniformly seem to use "futons" as the plural of "futon". On the other hand, there seems to be a 60-40 split on whether "haikus" is the plural of "haiku".

144. ### Danny said,

June 18, 2012 @ 8:46 am

tNo-one says either "three vinyl" or "three vinyls" so I'm not sure where you're going with this one. Vinyl /vinyls is used for non-specific numbers. e.g "I bought a bunch of vinyl/vinyls at the flea market on Sunday." or "I'll bring some vinyl/vinyls along for the party."

Now, more importantly, when retiring for the evening from a swinging hipster soiree should I say to the host, "Later, my fine fellow, I hope to see you moderately soon, perhaps even tomorrow night." or "Laters, blud. Catch you darkside."

145. ### Andrew (yet another one) said,

June 19, 2012 @ 8:13 am

AlexB (June 13, 6.46 am) linked to a high-end turntable site. LL readers will be interested to find a nice eggcorn ("cuts to the musical choice") hidden there:
http://www.clearaudio.de/_en/lw_Innovation.php

146. ### Hexagram said,

June 19, 2012 @ 9:21 am

I posted a lengthy comment on the Drowned In Sound forum (http://drownedinsound.com/community/boards/music/4327956#r6823396) in which I put out the case for an elided noun: a vinyl [record]. When it's a plural, the plural marker attaches to the 'adjective', giving vinyls, in the same way as floppies. Now that I think about it, floppies should sound really odd!

If the noun [record] is elided, then the mass/count distinction isn't quite so important as where the word is in the sentence: head of the adjective phrase. Vinyl is being used in the adjective position, exactly as in floppy disk. It takes a plural when the noun is gone – unusually, because adjectives don't take them normally.

Here's the rule of thumb:

When you get a pluralised adjective or mass noun, that means you have an elided noun after it. Plural markers don't attach to adjectives normally, and mass nouns have no plural; therefore, the plural marker was trying to attach to something else. Vinyls is as okay as floppies, but in neither case is the word itself really pluralised! The plural marker is a hitchhiker.

As for zero derivation plural of a count noun: as has been noted, that particular subset is tiny (cannon, sheep, aircraft, deer, fish etc) and it might even be a 'closed category'. Why would it apply to vinyl but not floppy? Neologisms tend to follow the regular rules where they exist: for instance, tweet as a verb has the past tense tweeted, not twote or twate. I don't buy that vinyl in particular has a zero derivation plural.

(It's always odd when one forum you follow posts about the activities of another! So jarring. It's like meeting your primary school teacher at your weekly fight club)

147. ### Morriss Partee said,

June 19, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

marie-lucie said,
Someone above compared "vinyl" to "plastic", a good analogy. The word "plastic" is often used as a generic for "credit cards", as in "I don't carry much cash, I use plastic", or, remarking on a wallet overflowing with cards: "You've got a lot of plastic there!" But I don't think "plastic" in this sense has evolved into a countable noun: no one says "I'll use one of my plastics". If this evolution does occur, one would expect the plural to be "plastics", as with "glasses" and other words as pointed out by several commenters.

Naturally, in financial circles, "plastics" is used in certain situations. Especially as in a blank debit card that will be custom-imprinted when a customer requests one. "Sally, place an order with our card manufacturer; we're running low on plastics."

There is probably as much jargon in banker-speak as there is in hipster-speak.

148. ### Link love: language (44) « Sentence first said,

July 9, 2012 @ 5:41 am

[…] A new peeve: the plural of vinyl. […]

149. ### Mike said,

December 13, 2013 @ 6:40 am

Wow, actually I didn't know that. English is not my first language. I usually used vinyls, it sounded better for me. But as I write it, the spelling correction underlines this word as incorrect :D. I'm Polish and in our language there are few different ways for LP records. One of them is "winyl" ("w" pronounced as "v"). The plural is "winyle". That's why "vinyls" sounds better for me, more like in polish. We usually have issues with foreign words adapted to polish language. They used to be indeclinable. "Radio" is a good example. But language is a living structure, so it changed some time ago.

150. ### Dar said,

March 18, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

I don't really see the problem.

If we're talking about the chemical material, then "vinyl" is the proper plural.

However if "vinyl" is used as shorthand for "vinyl record" then "vinyls" seems the proper plural to use.

But then I usually use "phonograph" or "phonograph record", so what do I know.

151. ### matt said,

June 24, 2014 @ 1:01 am

the plural is "records".