Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wonderings and Googlings* (Wherein I wonder about words, then I Google them)

*(see late addendum below)

The reason is threefold = 419 hits
The reasons are threefold = 597 hits

I've mostly heard people use that plural one. But today I came across the "the reason is threefold" (Yes, it's another thrilling day of copy editing).

Dictionaries don't address this issue directly. But, the way I read their definitions, it seems to make more sense to use it with the singular.

Webster's New World:

threefold adj. 1. having three parts. 2. having three times as much or as
many. adv. three times as much or as many.

Dictionary.com offers examples:

a threefold program
a threefold return on an investment

So does Webster's Revised Unabridged (via Dictionary.com)

A threefold cord is not quickly broken. -- Eccl. iv. 12

Seems to me that when someone says, "The reasons are threefold," they're using "threefold" as a synonym for "three." (Answer me these questions three.) But none of the dictionaries I checked treats them as synonyms.

* Addendum:

I hadn't had much time to look at the news until late in the day, but this is for those of you who were interested in the politics of yesterday's post: The Center for Responsive Politics has released a report on how much money congress members got from banking/financial company donations in the years before a 1999 vote on removing some regulations. As also reported in the Los Angeles Times, the report demonstrates a clear correlation: Reps who got the most money from this industry were pretty much the same people who voted yes on the deregulation measure. Here's the link, where you'll also find a full list of names and dollar amounts: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/09/money-and-votes-aligned-in-con.html

The Times also reported today the stuff that was on the Wall Street Journal's website yesterday about lobbying by banks, etc. to capitalize on the bailout plan.

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David said...

I could imagine a group of some unspecified number of reasons falling into three categories.

June Casagrande said...

Yeah, that works.

Still, I'm wondering if the dictionaries are just lagging behind usage and should tweak their examples/definitions to demonstrate the common "the reasons are threefold" usage. (Based, of course, on my oh-so-scientific sample of a few hundred Google hits.) Of course, I'm operating this piece of machinery (computer) while not under the influence of coffee. So I could by typing nonsense.


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