April 4th, 2007
Each / youth or youths?
by Barbara Wallraff
Richard L. Cole, of Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: “Do I understand or misunderstand ‘each’? From a newspaper column on the anniversary of the loss of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald: ‘The (Mariners’ Church) bell will be rung 29 times for each of the 29 men who were lost.’ I make that 841 peals. And according to an NPR broadcast, in addition to the Chairman, the Joint Chiefs of Staff includes ‘four members from each of the services.’ What’s the verdict? Was ‘each’ used incorrectly in each case?”
Dear Richard: Yes, you’re right -- those usages are incorrect. The bell was rung 29 times, once for each of the lost men. And the Joint Chiefs of Staff includes one member from each of the services.
Paul Sutherland, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., writes: “The word ‘youths’ strikes me the wrong way. I wouldn’t say ‘I saw many deers yesterday,’ yet I hear some say ‘All youths are invited.’ What gives?”
Dear Paul: When a word bothers you, it’s usually at least interesting to ask yourself why. And comparing it with another word you’re more sure of can be a good way to figure out whether it’s just you or if there really is something peculiar about the word and how it’s used. But you need to be careful what other word you use for comparison. “Deer” and “youth” don’t have much in common. “Deer,” with a plural form the same as its singular, is one of a group of names for creatures that, in times long ago, were hunted or fished. Other examples are “moose” and “elk” and “salmon” and “trout.” Let’s be glad that “youths” don’t belong to this category.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.