Peoples and Sequins

I hate the word ‘peoples.’  Hate it.  I also hate ‘persons.’

 I hate persons because the plural of person is people.

I hate peoples because people is already plural.

What other word in the English language is a double plural?  I can’t think of any.

On top of that, it’s always the most pretentious people who use the words persons and peoples.

 And also, I am trying hard to be grumpy today, but it’s made completely impossible by the fact that the bathroom floor is covered in sequins.  I defy you to sit on a toilet you’ve had to brush sequins off of and look down at a bunch of sequins on the floor of your bathroom, which is in a non-descript office building, and not laugh.

What the fuck?

Who’s wearing sequins?  And why?

Shoot, I thought I was feeling fancy in my new skirt and someone’s got sequins. 

38 thoughts on “Peoples and Sequins

  1. Peoples — a pernicious affliction (affectation) among the kind of scholars who bow slightly with "fake grateful yoga hands of blessing." Usually coupled with "of color." (Never blue, or green, or purple, mind you…) It’s lazy and obscurantist, assuming without bothering to demonstrate commonalities of character, social organization, and culture among diverse folks — none of which the scholar is going to bother to tell you.

  2. No, "peoples" can be really helpful if you to talk about large-scale migrations like the Volkerwanderung, or go on about steppe empires.

  3. In the same vein, too many peoples treat the words "data" and "opera" as though they were singular, and in the case of "opera", they often create a double-plural. Saying "we have too much data", is like saying "we have too much cats". And despite the depravity of ten-thousand database administrators, the plural of "index" is not "indexes".

  4. Yeah, I get that idea — peoples as a substitute word for nations, tribes, polities, groups, humans with linguistic or religious or cultural hearth unity. It’s a word that tries to sidestep baggage — like the modern statist assumptions that are built into nation, or the nightmarish mishmash that comes with ideas of tribe. Still, it’s a little sloppy even if it’s handy. Do you mean followers of X? Then that’s what you should use. Do you mean "families that called themselves blah-blah and ranged roughly here to there in 865 AD?" I guess I’m arguing for precision, with an explanation of why it matters to be more precise.I run into this all the time teaching American Indian history. It is tough, especially for teaching students with no background. It’s become part of my pedagogy method to get them to quit talking about tribes unless and until they have a historically appropriate reason to do so.

  5. Opera is plural? What is the singular? Oh, yes, opry.I just went back in the bathroom and noticed some vomit on the floor. Perhaps someone ate some sequins and found them disagreeable.

  6. > American Indian historyBridgett, What do you mean "American Indian history"? No, I am not trying to be ‘PC’ and demand "Native American"; I’m wondering what rationale allows you to group these millions of people under one label at all. Certainly they didn’t go around saying, "Hey we live on the same continent. We must be one people, with one history." Talk about sloppy (but handy).

  7. I had a boss once who kept talking about the "magnus opus" he was working on.Bridgett, I agree with you about the failure of "peoples" as a term of art. But I find that if I talk about "the various peoples displaced towards the west by the Huns," the use of "peoples" is not problematic, whereas the use of "Huns"–well, don’t get me started.

  8. Yep, IC, again, I get that point but I think you’re incorrect. American Indian people themselves decided that there are sufficient historical, cultural, and political similiarities in their common experiences vis a vis European imperialists and their successive settler-states to adopt the group label American Indian. (This is called pan-Indianism. There’s a long history of this ideology that’s put in practice in various ways and places since at least the 15th century.) Beginning in the 19th century, Indian scholars themselves began to argue for a discipline devoted to the comparative study of same, developed courses titled "American Indian history," founded journals dedicated to publishing work on American Indian history. So, yeah, I’m ok with the term.

  9. You know, the word monies bothers me…. Of course I have never taken the time to investigate if it is really a word on not and couldn’t tell you off the top of my head as language is obviously not my thing! I surround myself with English majors so that they can correct me when I say/write things incorrectly. I obviously don’t have an English major hiding under my desk right now…..

  10. I disagree, B. Peoples has its place, eg. as in refering to the peoples of the Amazon basin – Cannibalism is not and has never been ubiquitous to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin.’Peoples’ denotes groups of people while not limiting these groups to the definition of tribe or other social entity.

  11. Huck, I’ll have my people call your peoples and we can schedule a time to fight about it.Ha.I guess I can see why peoples might be useful. I conceed.I refuse to conceed persons, though. That word stinks.

  12. "Cannibalism is not and has never been ubiquitous to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin."VS"Cannibalism is not and has never been ubiquitous to the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin."Same thought, I’d argue, without pluralizing the plural. In this example, the point of the sentence is to establish a characteristic in common — the rejection of certain ritual dietary practices.If I were your editor, I’d suggest the following:"Cannibalism is not and has never been ubiquitous to Amazon Basin cultures."Likewise, "various peoples displaced by the Hun" is not too much (and perhaps not at all) different than "various people displaced by the Hun." You’re stressing the common experience of displacement rather than the ethnic variety of the people so displaced.

  13. Seeee… noowww… I sorta see the justification for persons when one is properly invoking the sublime powers of legalese….and hither theretofore those person or persons who accept responsibility for reason or reasons there known or unknown……….

  14. Bridgett,No.What if you had previously specified that those peoples to whom you are referring are part of your own newly defined cultural groups – beyond the boundaries of a tribe or a single predefined culture. The author should use peoples instead of writing this: "those Amazonians who like to engage in canibalism between tribes but are outside of the cultural boundaries of what is commonly accepted", every time.

  15. Okay, that’s it. My people are for sure fighting your peoples now, Huck.We’ve got some lawyerly readers and I bet even they can’t justify "persons." It’s the same number of letters as people! No, it’s one more!

  16. Does it bother you when forms use "person(s)"? You know, you could just roll around the bathroom floor and get all those lost sequins on your outfit if you really wanted sequins.

  17. Ya know… I’m at a loss. Why the hell isn’t people used instead of persons? I guess when you are referring to particular people who you have already referrenced, and thereby wish to accent that…? I don’t know….but I like it… grrr.

  18. I can live with person(s). I can understand why person(s) exists. But not persons. I know it makes no sense, but there it is.Bekah, I’m not sure I can, in good conscience, entertain the idea of rolling around on the bathroom floor, considering the other things on it.I just wonder if someone is wearing sequined tap pants for underwear. That would be so awesome.

  19. Reason #2 I quit editorial work: resistant authors.I kid.Yes, "person" has a specific legal meaning. There are "natural persons" — that is, real live human beings as opposed to legal entities like corporations. Corporations are "persons," for example, but they aren’t people and they damn sure ain’t folks.

  20. I *think* (but I’m by no means sure, I’m talking at least half out of my ass) that the reason is that ‘person’ has two overlapping but subtly different meanings. First as we commonly use it, it’s any individual. But in legalize (and for that matter, also in philosophy), it specifically refers to an entity with rights. And so there could be people who aren’t persons — so to speak.Now of course the most obvious *why* of that is something we’d all like to believe is obsolete, though a recent notorious thread here may have established otherwise : ) … but the flip usage — ‘persons who aren’t people’ — just might come in handy when we start hangin’ out with spacemen and sentient machines.

  21. "You’re stressing the common experience of displacement rather than the ethnic variety of the people so displaced."Nah, because I’m going on to point out how their responses to the displacement (what direction they ran, what [if anything] they did besides running, like that) differed according to their ethnic group/tribe/peoplehood. And, BTW, I’m approaching this argument not in the spirit of a resistant author (since I don’t write about the Huns or about groups whom I woud characterize, even loosely, as "peoples", but if I did, I’m probably going to be convinced by your argument, and even if I’m not, alternative uses will probably result in shorter sentences, which I like to use, except, of course, on blogs like this one) but as someone in front of the classroom. Someone, in fact, who has probably just gone over the misleading use by chroniclers of "natio" and "gens" *and* the fictive kinship of the "tribe." After all that, I get to say "peoples" beause it’s quicker.

  22. did someone say Moose yet? and this is only sorta related…here in VT there are highway signs that say MOOSE 5000 FEET — it’s a yellow "warning" sign like the leaping stag ones, but it says those words…5000 Feet, not ONE MILE, but only 5000 Feet…in other words, there will be NO ROUNDING UP OF NUMBERS here in Vermont, to me this is as bad as persons, peoples, which I too, despise.

  23. The whole argument against "peoples" is based on the idea that the word "people" is plural. But that isn’t necessarily the case. Statements such as, "We are a proud people", show that "people" can be singular ("a people"). Of course, if you want to get really silly, "to people" is also a verb: "The world must be peopled." (from "Much Ado About Nothing").

  24. Unfortunately, colonial historians still use it that way. Recent works by Bernard Bailyn, for example, blithely describe the "peopling of America" in the 17th century, as though the continent was not "peopled" for thousands of years before that. (Some people, it seems, aren’t really persons.) In his usage, as in Shakespeare, "people" connotes race/ethnic group, culture hearth, religious affinity, and common political organization all rolled into one. It’s a word that hides a mighty bunch of power systems. Especially when needlessly pluralized.

  25. “Foods” is another double plural. When you’ve got peoples buying foods with monies, it gets awfully confusing.

    The pluralizing thing that’s always bothered me is, for example, courts marshall, attorneys general, or mothers-in-law.

    Great stuff!

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