Geek Trivia: Tale of the tape (player)

What is the official, Sony-approved plural form of 'Walkman?'

Language and technology have never been the most steadfast of bedfellows. To most tech-heads, proper syntax has more to do with debugging code than subject-verb agreement, which is probably why technology products create some of the most infuriating cases of grammar confusion found in the English language.

Case in point: The iPod nano. (And yes, Apple insists that nano be lowercase.)

How would you describe a group comprised of more than one iPod nano? You'd say iPod nanos, right? Or is it iPod nanoes, as in more than one potato means you've got potatoes? (Of course, this is not a universal rule, as more than one piano gives you pianos.)

Or is it iPods nano, as we're pluralizing the noun and not the adjective? This would be similar to the case that more than one sister-in-law means sisters-in-law and not sister-in-laws.

It's a grammatical conundrum for sure. But it's just one of many to originate from Apple's marketing department, what with its linguistically irritating habit of giving several products a noun-then-modifier namesake, such as MacBook Pro or Mac Mini.

Of course, what do you expect from a company whose motto is itself a grammatical error? Think Different is an adjective modifying a verb. Only adverbs can properly modify verbs, so the slogan should be Think Differently.

So, how does one say or write the plural of iPod nano? Well, iPod nano is a compound noun, which means you can place the pluralizing -s in either spot. Typically, pluralizing the lower noun (the noun within the compound element) as opposed to the higher noun (the whole compound) is traditionally only correct in hyphenated forms, such as the aforementioned sister-in-law. So you wouldn't expect to see iPods nano. The issue of -s versus -es pluralization comes down to convention, so it's up to Apple to decide.

Apple, unfortunately, goes out of its way in marketing copy not to pluralize any product name -- or even use articles such as an or the. Apple treats products like singular, proper nouns, as in "While it can't stop the rain, iPod nano might make your day a bit brighter." All I can say is write its customer service department for an answer to this pluralization debate.

Now, before you declare it unreasonable to expect a major product manufacturer to waste time on such trivial matters as official pluralization, I'd refer to the infamous case of the Sony Walkman -- a product so revolutionary, popular, and grammatically confounding that Sony had to list an approved plural form of the word.


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By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...