City Desk

Copy-Editing Corner: Are Bands “It”s or “They”s?

We can do itMy blog item yesterday about media organizations axing copy editors and receptionists set off a firestorm of comments about whether musical groups should be referred to as singular or plural entities. OK, actually it was two people. OK, both people commented on my Facebook page, not here. But this does not mean I can't get another item out of it!

Both schools of thought have valid points. To wit:

The "Bands Are Its" Argument

The word band is singular. Saying "Collective Soul are playing the 9:30 on Aug. 27" is as ignorant as it is a sad statement of fact. Collective Soul is a band. The band is playing on Aug. 27. It would be incorrect to say "Only a group of people with unfashionable tribal arm-band tattoos are going to the Collective Soul show at the 9:30 on Aug. 27." The antecedent is not the plural noun people, it is group, which is singular. QED.

THE PROBLEM: Some bands have inconveniently plural names. To say "The Fiery Furnaces is playing the Black Cat on Aug. 8" is to create something almost as difficult to listen to as the new Fiery Furnaces album. So this rule requires a big honking exception: "The Fiery Furnaces are playing"; unfortunately, "the band is out of ideas." It can look odd to have both forms of address in one article.

The Bands Are Theys Argument

People write sentences like "Widespread Panic are opening for the Allman Brothers Band on Oct. 6 at Merriweather Post Pavilion" because people say "Widespread Panic are opening for the Allman Brothers Band on Oct. 6 at Merriweather Post Pavilion." It's unnecessarily stilted for a publication that doesn't address people by "Mr." or "Ms." on second reference to sound so stuffy. Moreover, consonance reigns in your music section. All bands are theys.

THE PROBLEM: Why should the music section follow different rules from the rest of the publication? Because musicians lack unfashionable tribal arm-band tattoos? "Apple are releasing a new iPhone?" "The government are declaring war?" Asinine! (INTERESTING SIDENOTE: In the United Kingdom, many ostensibly singular entities are referred to as plurals: "PARTICK Thistle have found a unique way of topping last season's headline-grabbing pink kit – by launching a new away strip in camouflague." Then again, the story misspells camouflage.)

My feeling:

Platform agnosticism is underratedoverrated [DOH! WISH I'D HAD A COPY EDITOR LOOK AT THIS]. Just as there are features that work better online and features that work better in print, the way you talk and the way you write can be different. Anyone who's ever heard me stammer through an interview would probably agree! I say option 1.

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  • http://www.vcustudentmedia.com Greg O. Weatherford

    In his book "Lapsing Into a Comma," WashPo copyeditor Bill Walsh decrees that a band is a singular unit and should be approached as such ... EXCEPT when the plurality of a band name causes noun-verb disagreement that offends the ear.

    For example, "The Beatles is great" sounds like a crack addict talking. Therefore, Walsh says, the best approach would be to say "The Beatles are great" or "The band is great." Singular band names take singular verbs at all times: For example, "The Who is great," a statement that is indisputable on every level.

  • anne

    Why not do as the english do? They consider collective nouns plural, as in "The firm are pleased to announce the addition of Wayne H.Gacy, esq."

    It works for me.

  • huh?

    Congratulations, Mr. Gacy!

  • different anne

    the british also drive on the wrong side of the road and put corn on pizza.

  • http://www.nickbaily.com Nick Baily

    Well, to continue the geek out even further. How about the idea of sidestepping the issue wherever possible. It can't be totally avoided always at all times, but very often it can.

    So for example:

    “Widespread Panic are opening for the Allman Brothers Band on Oct. 6 at Merriweather Post Pavilion.”

    Becomes:

    “Widespread Panic will be opening for the Allman Brothers Band on Oct. 6 at Merriweather Post Pavilion.”

    And couldn't...

    "PARTICK Thistle have found a unique way of topping last season’s headline-grabbing pink kit"

    ...be this instead:

    PARTICK Thistle found a unique way of topping last season’s headline-grabbing pink kit"

    And since you mention the Fiery Furnaces, a quick google finds this sentence in one of their press releases:

    "The Fiery Furnaces are one of the most unique experiences in live music."

    There's that problem again. But instead of "The Fiery Furnaces is one of..." can't you just do something like "The Fiery Furnaces deliver one of the most unique experiences..." instead?

    [geek note, there's no such thing as "most unique" that's a pet peeve. Unique is a synonym for "one of a kind" so it's an absolute term, not one of degree. But we know what you mean]

    And googling for PR from the other artist mentioned finds this PR:

    "Warner Music Canada/El Music Group recording artist Collective Soul is set to hit the road this spring on a Canadian headlining tour..."

    Which would have been just fine as:

    "Warner Music Canada/El Music Group recording artist Collective Soul will hit the road this spring on a Canadian headlining tour..."

    ...and so on. I could keep going. But why try to split hairs when there's almost always a wide open alternate option staring you in the face.

    $.02

  • Dave

    Your Fiery Furnaces example still wouldn't work. "Fiery Furnaces deliver..." doesn't make sense if the band is considered singular. You'd have to change it to "Fiery Furnaces delivers..." which is painful for me to type, let alone read.

  • http://www.nickbaily.com Nick Baily

    Oh dammit you're right. Well then how about "A Fiery Furnaces show is one of the most unique experiences..." ah never mind. There's always a way to do it though pretty much. Sometimes more gracefully than others.

  • Glen

    Wow. You sure have alot of time on your hands, don't you?

  • http://www.nickbaily.com Nick Baily

    Hey that guy must have a problem with drinking. I was at the bar seven days in a row and he was there EVERY time.

    ;-)

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