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Binocular, binoculars, or pair of binoculars?

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#1 Lou3

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 04:39 PM

To help people who are unsure about the correct singular and plural for binoculars, I'd like to suggest a sticky post. I was one of those people until yesterday, when I found clarification in Astronomy Hacks.

One unit is a binocular. For example, the correct way to compliment your friend's new Fujinon 25x150 MT is, "that's an incredible binocular." It would be incorrect to use binoculars or pair of binoculars in this instance. The pair of tubes gives the impression that the plural is appropriate, but the bi in binocular covers that. Binoculars is used for more than one unit. What about "a pair of binoculars?" That's correctly used for two units that constitute a set. For example, your friend has a Nikon 8x32 SE and 12X50 SE next to each other on a shelf, the little one his daytime binocular and the larger his astronomy binocular. You'd compliment the set by calling them a nice pair of binoculars.

#2 BillC

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 06:06 PM

You are absolutely correct!!! However, good luck on making it stick. I've tried and failed for so long, I've given up.

I'm now working on people saying something is "for free," as opposed to saying it's "free." Of course, with the media so chock full of people who know so little about our language, I know that's a lost cause, too.

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#3 Man in a Tub

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 06:25 PM

+1 more

We're old school on this usage.

#4 Rich V.

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 06:41 PM

I have a number of pairs of binoculars, but none of them are matched pairs. ;)

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#5 Tony Flanders

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 06:59 PM

Logic is one thing, usage another.

Every morning, when I wake up, I put on a shirt and pant.

Not ...

#6 BillC

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 07:01 PM

I used to wear a PAIR of pants, BUT . . . I kept tripping!

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#7 BillC

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 07:03 PM

"Every morning, when I wake up, I put on a shirt and pant."

I understand, Tony; especially with pull-overs. I sometimes get out of breath, too!

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#8 Tony Flanders

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 04:38 AM

One unit is a binocular.


Sez who?

Sky & Telescope used to skirt this issue by avoiding both "pair of binoculars" (which is logically inconsistent) and "a binocular" (which is counter to common usage and hopelessly stuffy).

You can, in fact, word around it by phrases like "it looks great in binoculars," which ducks the question of whether it looks great in all different kinds of binoculars or just one particular pair. But that kind of circumlocution gets pretty tedious in an article that's mainly about binoculars.

We had a big meeting where I convinced all the other editors that it's really OK to use the phrase "pair of binoculars." There were no dissenting voices, and everybody heaved a big sigh of relief.

Logically, of course, this makes no sense at all; a pair of binoculars would be a quadrocular. But if you're going to be a stickler for logic, you should start calling these instruments binobjectives -- instruments with two objective lenses. "Binocular" technically means an instrument with two eyepieces. That would include normal telescopes used with binoviewers, but nobody calls those binoculars.

The phrase "pair of binoculars" has been in common use for several generations now, which is more than enough to make it "correct." It does raise some thorny usage questions, but no more than "pair of pants." Or that annoying singular/plural celestial object: the Pleiades.

In case anybody is curious, "pants" is short for "Pantaloons." There is a word "a pant," used by seamstresses to refer to a half of a pair of pants, but it's back-formed from "pants."

There are some other English words that exist only in the plural, not in the singular, but I can't bring them to mind at the moment.

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#9 Collimator

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 04:54 AM

With the Pleiades it is probably O.K.
As when one talks of a Pleiad it means a single star in the Pleiades cluster.
For instance 'I can see eleven Pleiads in the Pleiades'.

I cannot recall too many english words in the plural only at the moment, but in finnish 'Kasvot' meaning a face is plural. The Finns consider the two halves of a face I suppose and we talk of two faced in english.
In finnish it is always plural.
I am not sure if 'Kasvo' means one side of a face. I will ask.

As to binocular, I must admit I do refer to it in the singular perhaps 95 % of the time, unless I am speaking to a non binocular specialist when I use the common usage term of binoculars. I rarely will say a pair of binoculars, as although it is common usage to me it sounds silly.

I think this topic is mainly one for binocular enthusiasts as most folk do talk of a pair of binoculars.

#10 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 05:34 AM

This English. Your English teacher might have attempted to convince you that English is a logical language but of as we all know, that was a vain attempt to justify his/her existence. English is a series of exceptions, one of which is that sometimes one might deduce a rule. For example, we learn to spell each word because there are no rules precise enough to allow for accurate spelling.

Binoculars, I carry a pair of binoculars in the car at all times. I also generally wear a pair of pants when driving, most often a pair of jeans. Sometimes I wear a pair of shorts. On rare occasions I might wear be wearing a pair of swimming trunks.

A few results of searching the web:

Usage notes: A single device is called a pair of binoculars, and the plural pairs of binoculars is used for more than one device. Wiktionary

Phonetics on the Web...

"Some nouns are always plural (things that come in pairs):

pants
clothes
binoculars
jeans
forceps
trousers
tongs
shorts
tweezers
people
pajamas
police
shorts
glasses
scissors
mathematics"

A previous Cloudy Nights Discussion

Jon

#11 Jawaid I. Abbasi

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 07:48 AM

The correct word is Binocular but pair of binocular is more common. As an example of Color and Colour




1738, "involving both eyes," from Fr. binoculaire, from L. bini "two by two, twofold, two apiece" (especially of matching things) + ocularis "of the eye," from oculus "eye" . The double-tubed telescopic instrument (1871, short for binocular glass) earlier was called a binocle (1690s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

#12 Tony Flanders

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 08:01 AM

The correct word is Binocular but pair of binocular is more common.


There is a body called the Académie française which determines what is correct and incorrect in the French language. One consequence is that the French language as actually spoken has drifted ever further from the "correct" language, which will at some point become of interest to scholars only, like Biblical Hebrew or classical Latin.

English has no body that decides what is correct or incorrect, so the term "correct" is not really meaningful when applied to English. In practice, usage is determined by the general public and by experts in the field.

As an example of Color and Colour.


Colour is the preferred spelling in England and Canada; color is the more common usage in the United States. This was one of the spelling reforms introduced by Noah Webster, perhaps the only person in history who has actually been able to rationalize (formerly rationalise) English spelling and make his changes stick. That's what you get for being the first person to write a dictionary in a new country.

#13 rydberg

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 10:39 AM

Speaking of Webster, the Merriam Webster on-line Dictionary uses singular for a single binocular, but then changes his/her/its mind:
Binocular (noun)
"a handheld optical instrument composed of two telescopes and a focusing device and usually having prisms to increase magnifying ability —usually used in plural "

It seems to be: use what you like.
Marco

#14 Tony Flanders

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 11:27 AM

Speaking of Webster, the Merriam Webster on-line Dictionary uses singular for a single binocular, but then changes his/her/its mind:
Binocular (noun)
"a handheld optical instrument composed of two telescopes and a focusing device and usually having prisms to increase magnifying ability —usually used in plural "


That captures it in a nutshell.

Both phrases -- "a binocular" and "a pair of binoculars" -- are perfectly acceptable. There's no chance that anybody will be confused by either one. Which one you chose to use depends on your purpose.

In a discussion entirely confined to binocular aficionados, "a binocular" may well be preferable, because it's logically clear and consistent. It's also convenient if you want to present yourself as being old-fashioned, hypercorrect, or otherwise curmudgeonly.

For speaking to the general public, "a pair of binoculars" is probably preferable because it sounds natural and unremarkable.

#15 killdabuddha

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 12:54 PM

To help people who are unsure about the correct singular and plural for binoculars, I'd like to suggest a sticky post. I was one of those people until yesterday, when I found clarification in Astronomy Hacks.

One unit is a binocular. For example, the correct way to compliment your friend's new Fujinon 25x150 MT is, "that's an incredible binocular." It would be incorrect to use binoculars or pair of binoculars in this instance. The pair of tubes gives the impression that the plural is appropriate, but the bi in binocular covers that. Binoculars is used for more than one unit. What about "a pair of binoculars?" That's correctly used for two units that constitute a set. For example, your friend has a Nikon 8x32 SE and 12X50 SE next to each other on a shelf, the little one his daytime binocular and the larger his astronomy binocular. You'd compliment the set by calling them a nice pair of binoculars.


Etymologically (and continuing to today), "binocular" is the adjectival form, but not really the noun form except as an earlier (and long since accepted) ba*tardization.

According to the OED...From 1738, "involving both eyes," and even earlier (1713) "having two eyes," from the French "binoculaire," as formed from the Latin "bini" ("two by two," "twofold," or "two apiece") + "ocularis" ("of the eye," from oculus "eye"). As an early noun the "double-tubed telescopic instrument" was called a "binocle," but as of at least 1871 "binocular" was also used as an abbreviation for "binocular glasses." The latest incarnation, "binoculars," perhaps corrects grammatically for the earlier abbreviation ("binocular") which only mimicked/confused the adjective and left off the (glasses) plural. However, and as Jon pointed out, "glasses" and the like (of things which operate sui generis by pair) are not strictly countable nouns either, and so don't naturally accommodate the "plural" consideration, relying instead upon the dubious "pair" designation for singling out. LOL. To wit, the first two noun forms, binocle and binocular, are singular (the set-plural pairing [bi] being embedded). So nice work, but expect to be corrected by others who will insist on doubling the doubling (pluralizing the singular set-plural) as "binoculars," unless they have the decency, the unmitigated gall, to try to re-singularize these by calling "them" a pair...but...now we're pairing the pairing of a pluralized singular...Oy vey! Where will it end? (And so yes, language does follow rules, and this is proof, the absurdity that results from abridging them.)

#16 brentwood

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 01:25 PM

As Tony said above, there is no single authority that governs the English Language. If you are educated and it sounds correct , it probably is.
In certain sentences, binocular, binoculars or pair of 'sound better'.
"The Zeiss 10x40 is a great binocular" -Good
"The Zeiss 10x40 is a great pair of binoculars" - OK
"The Zeiss 10x40 are great binoculars" -Good

"The captain lifted his binocular to his eyes"- Not Good
"The captain lifted his binoculars to his eyes" - Good
"The captain lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes" - OK

'Humphrey's pair of Binoculars Repair Shop'- Not Good
'Humphrey's Binoculars Repair Shop' - Not good, but better than above.

" He ran to the window, grabbing a binocular as he went" Not Good

I cannot see why the above appear to be wrong or right, other than they 'sound so'!

#17 BillC

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 01:41 PM

Would those who have taken umbrage at my notion that CN can sometimes be speckled with a lot to do about nothing, please read the posts above?

BillC

#18 killdabuddha

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 01:43 PM

I cannot see why the above appear to be wrong or right, other than they 'sound so'!


Sure you can. Just look at yer sig, then replace "binocular" with any other collectible (countable) noun. You don't have a ridiculous "guns collection," do you? (And assuming that yer not sayin that you have a collection which is "binocular.") OTOH, were you to say in yer sig that you have a "ridiculous binoculars collection," then I'd agree. In other words, under strenuous use (as in yer sig), you naturally defaulted to the more grammatically sound singular, but in casual conversation (e.g., the Vulgate) you naturally default to the "sound" (which is from common usage). (Pardon the pun.) Just because they can be (and often are) abused, this doesn't mean that there are no rules. And in point of fact, rules of every sort are bein amended all the time.

#19 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 02:29 PM

Sure you can. Just look at yer sig, then replace "binocular" with any other collectible (countable) noun.



Pants, shorts, trousers, glasses... some of the nouns that are always plural...

I put on my trouser/glass/short/pant...

Jon Isaacs

#20 Patrik Iver

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 02:55 PM

I cannot recall too many english words in the plural only at the moment, but in finnish 'Kasvot' meaning a face is plural. The Finns consider the two halves of a face I suppose and we talk of two faced in english.
In finnish it is always plural.
I am not sure if 'Kasvo' means one side of a face. I will ask.


Finnish is not my first language, but I do consider myself proficient in it... I would say that the singular "kasvo" would never be used to describe one side of a face. Rather one would say "toinen puoli kasvoista", which would literally be "one side of the face" or "the other half of the face".

A bit off-topic, but the question was asked... :cool:

Someone asked in another thread where in the world Ms./Mr. Collimator might be located, but I don't think you ever replied?

#21 StarStuff1

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 02:56 PM

"a handheld optical instrument composed of two telescopes and a focusing device and usually having prisms to increase magnifying ability —usually used in plural "

OK, off topic, but I did not know that prisms increased the magnifying ability in my collection of 20+ pairs of binoculars. :grin:

#22 Collimator

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 03:54 PM

Hyvaa Iltaa Patrik,
My computer doesn't do the dots.
It is a bit off topic but I could not think of a suitable english plural word.
Apparently there is a phrase where the singular 'Kasvo' can be used like in the english phrase 'He is a new face in the club' for instance.
But on its own the word is only used in the plural to mean 'Face'

I used to observe from Ursa observatory in Helsinki and use the 135mm Merz refractor and the Celstron 8.

My binocular then was a 7 x 23 micro Japanese external porroprism and very good 20 x 80 early Celestron selected porroprism.
Wonderful Aurora and Noctilucent cloud.
Also an amazing parhelic all sky display with multiple rare forms and two equally bright Suns.
Binoculars are very useful for noctilucent cloud fine detail.

I saw 13 Pleiads from the shore near the Ursula cafe with unaided eyes. The 12th and thirteenth just popped into view. My normal count was eleven.

I almost never say a pair of binoculars.
I suppose we say in english a pair of pants. In finnish I think it is a simple plural.
Strangely pair and pari in finnish don't seem to be the same.
I suppose different languages have different idioms.

Best regards.

#23 Tony Flanders

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 04:15 PM

Would those who have taken umbrage at my notion that CN can sometimes be speckled with a lot to do about nothing, please read the posts above?


It's probably fluff to most of the people here, but to me it's bread and butter.

Tony Flanders
Associate Editor, Sky & Telescope

#24 BillC

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 04:40 PM

Hi Tony:

"It's probably fluff to most of the people here, but to me it's bread and butter."

And, because of what you do, it has to be. Now, please join me in the hunt for those demons who say things like:

"FOR free,"
"Right HAND side of the road,"
"male PATTERN baldness,"
"At this point in time," and the like.

Have you read Bill Brohough's WRITE TIGHT? It is one of my 4 writing essentials.

BillC

#25 drollere

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 06:51 PM

OK, off topic, but I did not know that prisms increased the magnifying ability in my collection of 20+ pairs of binoculars.


off topic: magnification increases with focal length; if the prisms collapse the physical length of the instrument by folding the focal length, they increase magnification compared to a straight through instrument of equal length.

on topic: "Jack's Binocular Repair Shop" is idiomatic, since nouns used as adjectives are singular. "Jack's Car Repair Shop repairs cars." "What's his trade? He's an eye surgeon." Not eyes surgeon.

wider point: what is the difference between "an historical" and "a historical"? or "color" and "colour"? an 18th century revolution, that's what.

the essential point of language is to be understood clearly. the secondary point is to be understood gracefully and efficiently. spelling is an issue because it creates a stumble for the reader, just as mispronunciation creates a jolt for an audience. the issue often is not what is correct, but when, given the speaker and the circumstances, it is correct to correct them. that underscores how much of language depends on social status.

language is logical, but the logic is syntactical, not syllogistic. "for free" is syntactically comprehensible and therefore meets the essential point. whether it is graceful or efficient depends on who wants to correct, and why. and syntax is not a closed logic, but open ended. it is continually leavening what is already the custom. syntax is justice, and grammar is law; let us therefore debate "what is right".

i would use binocular because it is crisp and unambiguous. "in haste i grabbed my binoculars with both hands." -- "indeed, sir, how many binoculars did you carry?"

"pair of" is, to my ear, fussy and quaint. "i trimmed the cuffs of my pants with scissors, put on my glasses and grabbed the forceps to extract a pair of pickles from the jar." -- "sir, why a pair?" -- "why, one to eat, and one to bung the piehole of the grammarian."


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