Friday, August 15, 2008
Don't Assume the Boss is Grammar-Smarter Than You -- Especially If the Boss Works in Hollywood
A friend wrote recently with a question. She had just applied for a job with a powerhouse entertainment company that made her take a grammar quiz. One of the questions: What’s the plural of pizza?
My friend, having been raised in society and not in a hole in the ground, is fully aware of the word “pizzas.” I have no doubt that she has heard it thousands of times and said it thousands of times, too.
But she let the question throw her, and that was her big mistake.
Pizza? Well, pizza’s a food. And if you have one pepperoni pizza and then you order a mushroom pizza, what you really have is more PIZZA, right?
I’m paraphrasing her explanation, but that was the general idea.
My friend felt stupid, but she was actually being very smart. She was exploring her innate understanding of “mass nouns” versus “count nouns” – even though she had never heard the terms.
Count nouns are countable things, like “smiles.”
Mass (or non-count) nouns are words like “happiness.”
Yes, there’s some overlap. You can have meat and more meat but several types of meats.
“Pizza” has even clearer boundaries than meat (crusty, delicious, circular boundaries stuffed with cheese if you're lucky). We are much more likely to say “a pizza” and “some meat” than “a meat” and “some pizza.”
But that doesn’t even matter. What matters is the quiz asked for a plural. Mass nouns, for practical purposes, don’t have plurals. (Unless you really stretch it, such as with “happinesses.”) So the question could have only referred to the countable “pizza” and not the mass one.
My friend overthought it and got it wrong.
The lesson here is one we knew all along: To make it in Hollywood, check your brain at the big white sign.