Separating the modern usses from the cave usses

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Dinosaur Comics for 2/3/2016:

Mouseover title: "oh wow a comic in which ryan argues the technology that gave us the word "bonertastic" is really important, WHAT A SURPRISE"

And for added linguistic value, the page's javascript code includes this comment: about how to spell the plural of us:

really not sure the right way to write "usses". i went with the extra "s" to distingush it from "uses", and "us's" is CLEARLY wrong, but i\d be willing to entertain arguments for "us-es"??


  1. mdhughes said,

    February 8, 2016 @ 9:12 pm

    This is the well-known terminology from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, "evil robot usses".

  2. Max said,

    February 8, 2016 @ 9:54 pm

    Not to be boring, but isn't "us" plural enough? "Separating the modern us from the cave us" seems to work.

    I'm just glad that we all agree that using an apostrophe for a plural is clearly wrong. There are some odd edge cases like "do's and don'ts" but I'd love to see fewer "hero's" and "Prius's" as plurals.

  3. S Frankel said,

    February 8, 2016 @ 10:38 pm

    @Max – Even if you don't approve of dinosaur-speak (and I think it might be imprudent to argue with the speakers), you still need a plural for "us" in sentences such as, "There are two 'usses' in that sentences." You could always reword it, of course, but it *is* a comprehensible, and grammatical, English sentence, so there should be some way to write it. "Usses" is no worse that "busses."

  4. AdamC said,

    February 8, 2016 @ 10:56 pm

    @mdhughes, that is what I was reminded of as well.

    The film also features "good human usses":

    And "good robot usses":

  5. Bathrobe said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 1:04 am

    Would that be the modern we's and cave we's in the nominative?

  6. rosie said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 2:56 am

    S Frankel: ' "Usses" is no worse that "busses." '

    An unconvincing argument, in view of the plural "buses". Your "usses" is a citation plural. If this is needed, then so also is 'Panel 4 contains two "usseses"' (or something).

  7. Adrian Bailey said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 3:42 am

    "Usses" is fine, I think, even though it should really be the confusing "uses". "Us's" isn't too bad but unnecessary if "usses" is available. "Us-es" can hardly be entertained though, can it? Are there any examples of hyphenated plurals?

    In the context, "wes" might seem the correct word – I think we'd use "theys" and "shes" rather than "thems" and "hers" – but there seems to be a tendency to use "us" rather than "we" in such situations, possibly because "we" and its possible forms have a silly ring to them.

  8. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 5:51 am

    @ Adrian Bailey –

    Well in the context, wes would be bizarre, since it's in object position.

    But even in subject position, I would use the so-called accusative form of pronouns. Not because of the potential silliness of wes, but most likely because the "accusative" is the default form in modern English, with the "nominative" only really secure as the whole subject of a finite verb. It is ruled out in examples from [*Poor we] to [*I, I disagree] to [*There's she in the middle] and more.

    See for example The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, pp.459-463, or this PhD thesis on pronoun case in co-ordination, which has a run-down of the various syntactic constraints on pronoun case on pp4-13.

  9. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 5:57 am

    Sorry, to be clear I mean that I would use the accusative form of these made-up double plurals. E.g. the modern usses are separate from the cave usses

    It reminds me in some way of the usage quoted in the thesis I linked to above:

    Me, on the other hand, is a different story

    The author of the paper comments: "There seems to be a sense in which the use of the accusative here serves to draw out the referent of the pronoun as a distinct entity to be commented on rather than as inextricable from the speaker."

  10. Christopher said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 6:50 am

    Rosie if only you'd repeated yourself, one might have noted that your post contain two usseseses.

  11. John Swindle said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 7:01 am

    Whereas a sentence with no usses would be usless.

  12. richardelguru said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 7:31 am

    S Frankel: ' "Usses" is no worse that "busses." '

    Surely it depends on how much you like snogging!

  13. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 7:50 am

    Well, I would write "us's", but I realise some would not approve of that.

  14. Ellen K. said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

    I'd argue that the example of "bus(s)es", combined with "uses" being a common word with a different pronunciation, argues for "usses" as a plural for "us".

  15. Guy said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 3:22 pm

    I'd go with "us's", but the use of apostrophes to indicate metalinguistic plurals as well as plurals "spelled" symbolically has fallen out of favor in recent decades, to the point that some people see it as an outright solecism. Which is a little odd as I recall being explicitly being taught this as a use of the apostrophe in school, which wasn't that long ago. Maybe I just had an outdated textbook.

  16. Daniel Barkalow said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 3:22 pm

    The plural of "us" is "i". Hasn't Utahraptor taken Latin 1? (j/k, it's "uores", obviously)

  17. Chris C. said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 7:59 pm

    If Bill & Ted are wrong on this, then I don't want to be right.

  18. Ralph Hickok said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 8:39 pm

    "busses" and "buses" are the plural forms of two different words, "buss" and "bus."

  19. Ellen K. said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 9:15 pm

    Actually, busses and buses are both plurals forms of bus. (Though, yes, busses is also the plural of buss. Which isn't really relavant to the current discusion.)

  20. Scott said,

    February 9, 2016 @ 10:26 pm

    Another vote for us's. I can barely even read usses. Too many s's. (I don't like busses either.)

    I agree with Pflaumbaum that you'd use the object form for this kind of thing.

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