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Binoculars and English

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#1 Jeronimo Cruz

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 04:55 PM

Hi all,

What's the correct English when refering to binoculars? Should I say I have a pair of binoculars? But doesn't that mean I have two binoculars? Wouldn't it be grammatically correct to say I have a pair of monoculars? I guess a pair of pants is one pant on one side and another pant on the other side. But a pair of binoculars is not one binocular on one side and another binocular on the other side. Do you get my drift? I've heard people say "a pair of binoculars" on a regular basis.

I know this sounds silly, but I run into the problem a lot when I do my public program on Kitt Peak. When I refer people to a pair of binoculars I often get the reply "but I only need one binoculars."

How about a set of binoculars?

Any other suggestions?

Happy holidays!!!

#2 hallelujah

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 05:14 PM

*binocular: adjective

1. of or pertaining to both eyes at once.

2. having two apertures or tubes so joined that one may use both eyes at once in viewing a distant object; as a binocular telescope.

*binocular: noun

a binocular instrument

*binoculars: noun plural

field glasses or opera glasses

#3 KennyJ

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 05:16 PM

Hello Jeronimo ,

I'm sure everyone has their own preference , but for me a binocular is a binocular , not a pair of binoculars , but in certain circumstances even if refering to a single instrument , statements such as " Could I take a look through your binoculars ? " or " I took the binoculars outside to check them " seem to be less easily misconstrued as meaning more than one instrument .

Kenny

#4 F.Meiresonne

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 05:28 PM

Well , should i translate 'a pair of binoculars' to Dutch i guess i would wind up with actually 2 specimen (wich is actually NO problem for me as long as they are different outfits :grin:) but i was always under the impression that 'a pair of binoculars' in English terms refered to one specimen only.
But reading the comment of a English gentlemen here above i guess i am wrong.

#5 GregLee

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 06:01 PM

Should I say I have a pair of binoculars? But doesn't that mean I have two binoculars? Wouldn't it be grammatically correct to say I have a pair of monoculars?

I don't think there is any good answer to your question. "Binoculars" is grammatically plural and notionally singular, roughly speaking, but the grammatical and notional tend to contaminate one another, making for a confused situation.

To answer your questions (as if they were not meant rhetorically), to say you have a pair of binoculars does not mean you have two binoculars -- rather, it means you have binoculars. You can't say you have "a binoculars", although it makes sense, simply because you can't use "a" with a grammatically plural noun. Inserting "pair of" solves the grammatical problem (though not the notional one).

And it would not be correct in that case to say you have a pair of monoculars, any more than it would be, if you have a bicycle, to say you have a pair of unicycles. But you know that, of course -- you're just being playful.

#6 Jeronimo Cruz

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 06:46 PM

Hi all,

Thanks for your responses. I didn't know that I'd be walking straight into a thick fog!

Kenny, I guess that the solution to the problem it to refer to the instrument as a binocular. But this violates Hallelujah's second definition of binoculars. If you look at the binoculars.com website, it refers to the individual binoculars they have for sale as binoculars and not as a binocular.

And Greg, I like your analogy with bicycles and unicycles. But shouldn't unicycles be called monocycles? ;)

You've gotta love semantics!

Happy holidays!!!

#7 Jawaid I. Abbasi

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 09:29 PM

Bin--> Two
Ocular-->Eye
Binocular-->When using as an adjective
Binoculars--> When using as a noun
An optical device, such as a pair of field glasses, consisting of two small telescopes, designed for use by both eyes at once. Often used in the plural as binoculars.

#8 94bamf

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 11:30 PM

When I refer people to a pair of binoculars I often get the reply "but I only need one binoculars."

How about a set of binoculars?

Any other suggestions?

Happy holidays!!!


I think you should just tell them that everybody needs atleast two (pairs of) binoculars, maybe more! :grin:

Ken

#9 daniel_h

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Posted 22 December 2009 - 02:21 AM

binocular - pertain to 2 eyes
binoculars - optical instrument for both eyes
from Collins Australia dictionary

#10 Simon S

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Posted 22 December 2009 - 11:45 AM

I will get my binoculars.
I have some binoculars.
I prefer the binocular vision.
That what I would use....

#11 GregLee

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Posted 22 December 2009 - 02:23 PM

I will get my binoculars.
I have some binoculars.
I prefer the binocular vision.
That what I would use....

Those are perfectly grammatical, but the first two are vague as between singular and plural. That's the problem with semantically singular but grammatically plural forms. And that's why people get forced into the strange usage "a pair of binoculars", which has matching semantic and grammatical number.

#12 Man in a Tub

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 02:56 AM

That's the problem with semantically singular but grammatically plural forms.


A 1960 dictionary I have treats binocular as both an adjective and a noun ("binocular instrument"). And binoculars which follows is listed as a plural noun. Thus, most of the time I use binocular, not binoculars or pair of binoculars, when writing about one of my binoculars.

A second, more recent dictionary (1998) has disappeared the second meaning/use from the binocular definition, i.e., it is only defined as an adjective.

So, I think over a span of almost 40 years, a change or evolution in use has occurred.

P.S. I edited this for clarity. My usage is based upon what I learned years ago. It is arguably archaic. (I don't have the money to buy a huge, new dictionary every year.)

#13 Solar B

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 04:05 AM

Iam confident that it is grammatically correct to state
that you have a pair of binoculars (singular)
PS i did attend a Grammar school :D

Brian

#14 Tony Flanders

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Posted 27 December 2009 - 08:19 AM

What's the correct English when refering to binoculars?


The editors of Sky & Telescope had a lengthy discussion of this subject about a year ago, and we agreed by mutual consensus to change our style guide to conform to common practice.

Before this, we attempted to avoid both "a pair of binoculars," which seems logically inconsistent, and also "a binocular," which is contrary to common usage. It is possible to sidestep the entire issue by locutions like "the Pleaides look great through binoculars," which works fine whether binocular is singular or plural. But if you write a lot about binoculars, this forces you into some pretty tiresome patterns.

We now accept that the common term for the thingy that people buy in stores is "a pair of binoculars," just as you go to a clothing store to buy a pair of pants. My wife tells me that "a pant" is sometimes used by seamstresses to refer to the things that you sew together to make pants. But "pant" is actually an artificial word back-formed from "pants," which is short for "pantaloons."

The term "pair of binoculars" isn't really logical, but if you want logic, you should be speaking some language other than English ... or maybe no language at all. Language is what it is, not what you or I think it should be.

While we're on the subject, "the Pleiades" is almost as problematic as "binoculars." Is it singular, plural, or somewhere in between?

Moreover, the word "binocular" is really a misnomer. It means, literally, something with two eyepieces, which should include common telescopes fitted with binoviewers. Technically, the word ought to be "binobjective."

#15 F.Meiresonne

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Posted 27 December 2009 - 02:18 PM

While we're on the subject, "the Pleiades" is almost as problematic as "binoculars." Is it singular, plural, or somewhere in between?



Well, there were 7 of them, weren't there? Makes it plural for me :grin:


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