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October 14, 2013


Simon Lavery

David Crystal, as usual, has sensible advice on these matters; how and when animals, fowl, etc., are treated as count nouns or not varies considerably - it's less clear cut than this post suggests. For example you might go to feed 'the ducks' in the park, but go shooting 'duck'. In fact as soon as a creature is hunted it becomes a generic mass noun: 'we're hunting lion'. Of course there are well-known exceptions to the normal plurals: sheep-sheep; deer-deer. What about fish-fishes? Language is full of grey areas and shifting conventions. Doesn't of course preclude the kind of 'folk ontologising' advocated by Mr Smith - I found the piece interesting. No use railing against invasive foreign loan-words, though: think Cnut and the tide...

Simon Lavery

Sorry for this postscript: the Crystal text I had in mind was his 'Rediscover Grammar' - an excellent introductory guide to the vagaries and inconsistencies of English grammar - he's refreshingly unprescriptive.

Simon Nom

Ah, chicken as mass. It's really a "breaded concoction that includes chicken." When I think of the word prepare in english, it seems more like what fried chicken really is. Préparation AU poulet, suggests that it is a mixture which includes chicken as an ingredient, but not necessarily the main one -ever more suspect, yes indeed. And it probably includes the chicken-stuffs of which we dare not speak, coming from multiple chickens, perhaps from multiple farms, or even multiple countries. Every chicken with his own language, accent and cultural references.
Quick is definitely lively. Have you ever watched a French kid run after a free pink balloon with multiple origin chicken-stuffs stuck to his greasy fingers on a Wednesday afternoon in Quick? Fun stuff. Lively indeed. Anyway, thank you. I enjoyed reading this.


In French, "poulet" refers both to a mass or an individual depending whether we say "UN poulet" (an individual) or "DU poulet" (a undifferentiated substance).

You talk about "anthropomorphized hot dogs", but I think acknowledging animals as individuals is not to "anthropomorphize" them (this would imply that only humans are individuals), but to personalize them, to think of them as person is the largest sense of the word.

As you said in a recent paper "A FORM OF WAR. ANIMALS, HUMANS, AND THE SHIFTING BOUNDARIES OF COMMUNITY," "the default assumption throughout most of human history has been that animals are themselves people, if not exactly in the same way we are."

(Excellent paper, btw).

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