Mark Liberman has an amusing post at the Log about the emergence of a brand-new peeve:

If you don’t hang out with millennial hipsters, you might not have noticed that the cool kids are listening to music on turntables playing old-fashioned vinyl records, with many of these records being newly released rather than rescued from thrift shops. And you might also have missed a fascinating case of peeve emergence: the “rule” that one of these objects is called a “vinyl”, while (say) three of them should be called “three vinyl”, never “three vinyls”. So instead of “many of these records”, I could have written “many of these vinyl”, but not “many of these vinyls”. This is an issue that some people feel very strongly about.

He quotes many examples of those strong feelings: “Man, I hate to be the school marm but… ‘Vinyls’ is not a word”; “just so you know there is no such word as ‘vinyls.’ The plural of vinyl happens to be vinyl”; etc. etc. He goes into some detail about the silliness of the rule, concluding: “This is an unusually pure case of peevological emergence, without either tradition or logic on its side, and also (as far as i can tell) without any single authoritative figure behind the idea.” People’s need for rules, however arbitrary, both impresses and depresses me.


  1. ‘Vinyls’ *is* a word. It refers to different sorts of chemicals with vinyl groups. (One of which is vinyl chloride, the precursor to PVC.)
    The prescriptivist in me says that therefore, by analogy, three PVC long-playing sound records are properly “three vinyls” rather than “three vinyl”, and that the hipsters are wrong.

  2. Oh, come on. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s not angry people writing letters to the editor about apostrophes. They’re trying to distinguish themselves, it’s a kind of shibboleth. You know, like patchouli was. Interesting, though.

  3. “Three vinyl” just sounds wrong to me. Of course, I would say “three records” anyway.

  4. @Anthony: “that the hipsters are wrong”
    I seem to have been shouted down in the LL discussion, but I thought it was the other way round. To me (born 1956, UK) “vinyls” = “vinyl records” / “vinyl wallpapers/coverings” / “different formulations of vinyl plastic” seem thoroughly unexceptional. It’s the “one vinyl” / “two vinyl” that seems weird.

  5. >The prescriptivist in me says that therefore, by >analogy, three PVC long-playing sound records >are properly “three vinyls” rather than “three >vinyl”, and that the hipsters are wrong.
    Agreed. This is just stupid hipsters doing what stupid hipsters do: trying to seem cool by being elitist and knowing things that no one else allegedly does (e.g. the band you’ve never heard of, the clothing item no one has, etc.).
    >They’re trying to distinguish themselves, it’s a >kind of shibboleth. You know, like patchouli was.
    That’s true.
    >There’s nothing wrong with this.
    Yes there is, they’re straight-up wrong. It’s a very simple black-or-white thing: either the plural of “vinyl” is “vinyl” or it isn’t, and it isn’t. If you continue to insist that it is even after learning this then you just look silly.

  6. You do what you think is right, Andrew. I can’t say I feel strongly enough about the plural of the word vinyl to argue.

  7. It’s clear that these hipsters care more about being right than about not looking silly. I’m glad none of us are like that.

  8. The whole point of having an in-group language, of speaking Slovo instead of mere Huzzek, is to be able to say what the rules are, and mock people who Get It Wrong. If this in-group says vinyl is an invariant plural, as the EU says that euro is, then so mote it be. Or as it says in the tax collector’s office:
    “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, / Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit / Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, / Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    Dear Hipsters: Enough with the silly counterintuitive affectations or I’m not gonna let you listen to my ultra-rare US “white label” radio promo 45 of Hawkwind’s banned-by-the-Beeb “Urban Guerilla.” Or that Skyhooks LP. Or that Triffids LP that probably sold in the low four figures at best in North America but is apparently in hindsight so freakin’ iconic back Down Under that some Australian tv network did a whole retrospective program about it two decades on . . .

  10. Sorry: for “Huzzek” read “Huzzuk”, please.

  11. Bathrobe says

    The Skyhooks? Of ‘Horror Movie’ fame?
    I know I’ve heard the Triffids, but I’m blowed if I can remember any of their songs.

  12. Vinyl? Meh. I’m so hip I only listen to my music on wax cylinders. I find the crackle and hiss vinyl offers completely soulless compared to the “voice lost in a rainforest” levels of distortion a good wax cylinder will give you.
    Of course, the only correct way to refer to them is 1 wax, 2 wax, 3 wax etc. When you have 40, it’s called a “Lizzie Borden”.

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    @bathrobe, yes, but you may have the advantage of hailing from Australia. The Skyhooks’ considerable fame down there availed them naught in the U.S. and the record company gave up trying to promote them here after some initial catastrophic failures. The Triffids’ signature song (one of best 30 Australian songs of all time according to some industry group cited on wikipedia) might be “Wide Open Road,” which its now-deceased author claimed evoked a particular stretch of the highway across the Nullarbor Plain (“between Caiguna and Norseman”), and which I think is such a great piece it actually survives its unfortunate “period” mid-80’s drum sound. As with Hawkwind, both these Aussie bands are sufficiently obscure for hipster/cultist value in the U.S. but perhaps not so in their countries of origin (although U.S. pressings might be of collector value back in those countries because of comparative rarity). Context is all!

  14. What John Cowan said.
    I wonder if this all started with the following kind of usage (I’m sure it has a name, I just don’t know it): “I threw away all my Beatles vinyl in 1994”. You could just as well say Beatles vinyls I suppose, but it’s not as good.
    J Cass deserves a knighthood for that comment.

  15. started with the following kind of usage
    Or “I have a lot of vinyl” or “I don’t buy vinyl any more”. Yes, I think a number of people have suggested that.
    J Cass deserves

  16. I’m so unhip that I didn’t know patchouli was ever a shibboleth. For what in-group? Did you have to wear it, or not wear it, or pronounce it a certain way, or what?

  17. Oh, come on. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s not angry people writing letters to the editor about apostrophes. They’re trying to distinguish themselves, it’s a kind of shibboleth. You know, like patchouli was. Interesting, though.
    If patchouli isn’t wrong, I don’t wanna be right.
    J Cass deserves a knighthood for that comment.
    I don’t have the power to confer a knighthood (you’ll have to apply to a different Lizzie for that), but he does get the coveted LH Comment of the Week award.

  18. So to get this straight: we are supposed to say something like: “my vinyl ARE good listenin’, but my MP3 data IS not”?

  19. Land Grant says

    The peeve that Liberman describes is certainly ridiculous.
    But I strongly suspect that it exists, in the form he describes it, only in his own mind (and I guess now in the mind of those Language Loggers who are most prepared, perhaps not without reason, to believe the worst about millennial hipsters).
    I think the real peeve, as has been mentioned above, has to do with whether or not vinyl is a count noun. In my experience the people who peeve against “vinyls” would never say something like “I bought four vinyl today.” They would say either “I bought four records today” or “I bought some vinyl today,” or perhaps “I bought some sweet-ass vinyl today, bro.” And again, if they were warily sizing up a new member of their subgroup, they would say something like “do you have much vinyl?” rather than “do you have many vinyl?” etc.
    If I’m right about that, it means that the peevers have horribly mangled their attempt to formulate a rule that describes their own peeve; but that hardly seems surprising to me!

  20. narrowmargin says

    It all depends on how you use it. If you’ve got your record collection stored in the closet, you’d say,”I’ve got a lot of vinyl in there.” (Or you could say, “I’ve got my vinyls in there.”)
    If you’re sitting on the floor listening to your old Led Zeppelin LPs, you’d say, “These vinyls are great!”

  21. @Land Grant: I copy one of Liberman’s quotes below, showing pretty clearly that at least one peever favors the form “How many vinyl …?”
    “Zzz Records’ Frequently Asked Questions”:
    How many vinyls do you have?
    The plural of “vinyl” is “vinyl”. To answer the previous question, though, we have about 12,000 LPs in stock, as well as some assorted 12″ singles and 45s.

  22. Sir JCass says

    Thanks for the award, the compliment and the knighthood!

  23. Mass nouns are regular and usual in English. Invariant plurals of count nouns are not.
    When a subgroup of XML weenies tried to claim that the plural of schema is schema, vox pop. arose in wrath and pronounced it to be schemas, and this is the general usage today. Those who preferred schemata remained heads-down and ignored the whole brabble.

  24. Those who preferred schemata remained heads-down and ignored the whole brabble.
    Yes. Although the plural Schemata is more familiar to your average German érudit, the lower grades of programmer go for the Englishy Schemas. I always use Schemata when I have the floor and nobody can immediately start to whine.
    The thing is, I don’t give a rat’s ass if others say Schemas. But I demand the same r.a. in return when I say Schemata.

  25. there is a band called The Vinyls, another antipodean band The Divinyls. I still call them LPs I fear, quite tragically unhip. On the other hand vinyl has been hip since at least 1998..
    I have the Triffids on an assortment of mp3s created from the cassette tapes created from the original LP. The mp3s preserve the crackle and hiss of the LP, which entertains me at least.

  26. Ø: For what in-group? Did you have to wear it, or not wear it, or pronounce it a certain way, or what?
    Hippies. I think it was more that in the late 60s to early 70s the smell of patchouli around someone’s shop, house or person meant that they were more likely to have been a hippie than say a chartered accountant or a farmer. I don’t know whether they wore it as perfume, or really where the smell came from. No one seemed to like it, which is odd considering how prevalent it was.

  27. Joss sticks was the other smell.
    I’d never use the word vinyl, either. Ridiculous. I called them records, and still do.

  28. dearieme says

    “I called them records”: and no doubt you also distinguished singles, EPs and LPs? Would you agree that anyone in Britain who referred to an LP as an “album” was a pretentious twerp?

  29. Yes, a pretentious git, even. But “album cover” became a normal phrase, and of course the Beatles’ white album – you couldn’t say “the white LP”. I usually stick with “record”. It’s worth noting that “LP” could be used for classical music, whereas I don’t think “album” could. A Beethoven album? Nah.

  30. It’s convenient to have a term that is independent of the medium. Dire Straits made an album Dire Straits. Whether it’s on a vinyl disk or a tape or a CD, or whether I buy it at the iTunes store, I tend to call it an album. It was their first album.
    I can imagine that the word album strikes some Brits who did not grow up with that usage as pretentious, but for me it’s just the usual word. I learned something about the history of that usage at Language Log the other day.
    If anybody doesn’t like that term, what alternative term would you recommend?

  31. If I were dictating usage I would be happy with “record”, but in my experience “record” suggests vinyl whereas “album” is neutral as to medium.

  32. It hadn’t occurred to me that “album” was a US coinage. Did it start around the time of Sgt Pepper?

  33. OnlEtymDict says “by 1951”.

  34. Though I don’t go back to the 78 era myself, my parents did, and I grew up with actual albums, like photograph albums or autograph albums, with each sleeve-page containing a 78, and playable on their three-speed auto-record-dropping turntable. Some of them were classical, others contained G & S operettas, and there were doubtless others that I don’t remember. In particular, there was at least one Beethoven album containing a symphony, though I forget which one. So the extension of album to 33 1/3 vinyl, tape, and CD was intuitively obvious to me. Same amount of content, different format — same name.
    I no longer have any of their 78 albums: they broke during a move.

  35. I use ‘album’ and ‘record’ as \emptyset does, at least for a certain kind of music, say post-60s rock. But it might be harder to call Gould’s Goldberg Variations or an issue of the Hot Five Sessions ‘albums’. Perhaps similarly but less so for something like Giant Steps. In rock, a song typically has a definitive studio version and is released once, collected with other songs in a well-defined album. It’s not so far from this to identifying a song with its unique recording and the physical album with the abstract collection of songs. In jazz and classical music, where there is more emphasis on interpretation, it’s different. Could this account for the different meanings of ‘album’ and ‘record’? It would be interesting to tease it out.
    I thought my usage was pretty standard (40 y.o. American, btw), until I listened to Bob Dylan’s radio program a few years back. From what I remember, he used ‘record’ simply as a short form of ‘recording’. So he could play a single song and then refer to it as a ‘record’. But I suppose he speech habits were formed before 60s rock, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

  36. Sir JCass says

    I’m British and, in my experience, “album” was simply a common alternative term for LP. There was nothing particularly pretentious about it. I suppose in the 1970s there was a distinction between the “singles band” and the “album band”. The latter (Pink Floyd, Led Zep, prog rock in general) had much higher aspirations and often thought it was beneath their dignity to release a 45.
    As far as I remember, the term “vinyl” became more frequent when CDs began to dominate the market. Then you’d have to specify that you wanted The Triffids’ LP “on vinyl”. I don’t recall anyone talking about “vinyls”. There are a couple of things I miss about the medium, e.g. those cryptic messages some bands used to scratch in the run-out grooves (“Guy Fawkes was a genius”). Also, backmasking. It’s been a lot harder for Judas Priest to persuade me to kill myself on CD and MP3.

  37. at least one Beethoven album
    I subsequently read some of the Wikipedia articles about LPs, albums etc. and I see that most of what I wrote here was rubbish. But the OnlEtymDict dating of album as “by 1951” is misleading, because it has nothing to do with the invention of the LP. It was already in use for collections of 78s, as John says.
    I do think there was a good deal of pretentiousness in (British) prog rock at the end of the 60s – mid 70s, and I am reminded of it when I see the characteristic phrase “Pink Floyd album”. Read the Wiki pieces on Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother: even the band members cringe at the memory of these records nowadays, apparently.
    I must just once again repeat John Peel’s comment from his autobiography, that you could always tell the undercover drugs officers from the Met. at music festivals because they were the ones carrying a copy of Tea For The Tillerman under their arm (maybe you had to be there, it’s a bit of nostalgia).

  38. My ex-wife used to sometimes wear patchouli. This was in the 1980s. I once said, in genuine puzzlement, “What am I smelling? It’s like leaf mould or something!” She

  39. Oh, it seems I was thinking of adding another sentence. She, um, laughed at me.

  40. It’s imaginative, but suggesting she smelled of leaf mould can’t have helped your marriage.

  41. Sir JCass says

    even the band members cringe at the memory of these records nowadays, apparently.
    Yeah, I think it’s the term “concept album” that sends a chill down people’s spines. Some of those Pink Floyd mea culpas you point to are pretty funny.
    Patchouli is exactly the same smell as three-month-old mouldy teabags. I know whereof I speak. I was surprised to hear it was associated with hippies as I only remember it from a brief revival around 1980 when it was popular among the kind of kids who were definitely not into peace and love. It was a handy advance warning of their presence, mind. Of course, though there’s acres of nostalgia programming on TV nowadays, none of it can tell you about the odour of bygone eras. Two hundred years down the line and no one will know what a Goth or a New Romantic smelled like. It will all be lost in time like tears in the rain…
    BTW I wonder when the hipsters will get round to cassette retro-chic? A whole new generation is missing out on the pleasures of trying to extricate yards of screwed-up tape from a car stereo.

  42. Sir J, I assume that those were used teabags that someone forgot to dispose of, or saved for some misguided reason. As opposed to teabags beyond the end of their shelf life.
    the kind of kids who were definitely not into peace and love
    What kind? What were they into? I associate patchouli so strongly with peace and love. And of course leaf mo(u)ld.
    The EtymOnlDict says that “mold” in the sense of crumbled decayed vegetable matter (like leaf mold) is etymologically related to “mulch”, but not to “mold” in the fungus-on-the-teabag sense.
    On the other hand, WiPe describes “leaf mold” as “a form of compost produced by the fungal breakdown of shrub and tree leaves […]”.

  43. My wife detests the smell of patchouli, but it doesn’t seem to be a matter of associative memory: it’s too immediate for that. When someone wearing it walks by, she always winces and generally makes some kind of disgusted comment. I don’t have any strong feelings about it.
    Patchouli is a mint, and while it’s not common to make a tisane (herbal tea) out of it, it can be done: it’s not at all toxic. I was under the impression that some regular teas contained patchouli as a flavoring ingredient, but apparently not. However, there are soaps and lotions with both green tea and patchouli in them.

  44. If anybody’s curious about the etymology, the OED says it’s from “Deccan vernacular pacolī; the first part of the word is probably ultimately < a Dravidian language (compare Tamil paccai fragrant plant, fragrance), but the origin of the terminal element is unknown.”

  45. marie-lucie says

    I don’t know what patchouli smells like, but I have known the word for a very long time. I had seen the word in French literature (probably late 19C onwards), where it always seemed to refer to some kind of cheap but strong perfume that only women without taste or refinement would wear. I was surprised that this perfume or whatever became popular among the counterculture. I have often seen the word in English, but I have never learned to identify the scent.

  46. Sir JCass says

    I assume that those were used teabags that someone forgot to dispose of
    Yes, teabags accidentally left to stew in a teapot for three months. I think the “patchouli” smell came from a mixture of mould and English Breakfast Tea.
    What kind? What were they into?
    I can’t remember. Maybe it was their own small town youth cult, one which has evaded the radar of social anthropologists. Or maybe they’d been exploring their older, hippie brothers’ bathroom cabinets. Or perhaps they just smelled like that naturally.
    There was a patchouli revival among Goths in the 1980s. Here’s a German asking Warum riechen Gothics nach Patchouli?. The first answerer says it’s because patchouli smells “so beautifully of death”. I suspect it’s more likely because there was a 1960s nostalgia element in the Gothic subculture.
    Wikipedia implies patchouli was popular among Victorians and hippies because of its association with the opulent and mystical East.

  47. Wikipedia implies patchouli was popular among Victorians and hippies because of its association with the opulent and mystical East.
    Yes, and it suggests that the reason why some imported goods from the Orient had that distinctive fragrance was that essence of patchouli was used Out There as a moth repellent.
    If they had used mothballs instead, we might have ended up with hippies smelling of camphor.

  48. The Camphorated Hippies would make a good band name.

  49. marie-lucie says

    Most mothballs are not made with camphor, but with naphthalene (paradichlorobenzene), which is a very toxic product.

  50. Thanks, m-l. Around here when you don’t feel like doing your own fact-checking you can always count on the community to do it for you.
    Except, oh, actually WiPe says that PCB is used instead of naphthalene (which is dangerously flammable) and that the two should not be used together (because they react and the product of the reaction may damage your clothes).
    These are organic compounds, of course, therefore perfectly suitable for hippie wear.

  51. J.W. Brewer says

    Btw, the banned-by-Beeb Hawkwind song I’d mentioned upthread has the hilarious (ymmv, I guess) post-hippie couplet: “So let’s not talk of love and flowers and things that don’t explode / You know we’ve used up all of our magic powers trying to do it in the road.” I’ve heard patchouli used pejoratively as a signifer of annoying hippieness, but maybe more in British sources than American?

  52. Wikipedia says Queen Victoria’s linen chests smelled of patchouli and then there’s no reference cited, which is very annoying. I might have liked to read that book.
    Why is it spelt hippie rather than hippy?

  53. marie-lucie says

    These are organic compounds, of course, therefore perfectly suitable for hippie wear.
    But they stink! and they are irritants as well.
    Perhaps because “hippy” means ‘wide in the hips’.
    I remember an Archie strip in which Jughead had invited a girl to come and meet his friends. Since they were going to ride in a small car, he warned them that “She is a little hippy”, which they interpreted as “a little hippie”. They were surprised to meet a girl in ordinary clothes, with rather prominent hips.

  54. Trond Engen says

    Why is it spelt hippie rather than hippy?
    Because as a description of members of a certain subculture it was coined in the plural, and the singular was a back-formation?

  55. marie-lucie says

    Yes, Trond, most likely, but there is also the homophony with “hippy” from “hip(s)”.

  56. But m-l, I see your point, but how would that happen? Who would decide to put such a thing into common use? Newspapers? Is that how spellings are arrived at in English, nowadays?

  57. dearie, sweetie, softy, foodie, techie
    I think it’s unpredictable.

  58. marie-lucie says

    I have certinaly seen softie rather than softy: “He is such a softie!”. The -ie suffix seems to be gaining ground as a noun describing a person (the spelling -y being more closely associated with adjectives). Dearie and sweetie are (or started as (?)) terms of address, but the other examples are used as regular nouns for people with certain personal characteristics or interests. Nobody decides such things from on high, it is done informally, and people pick up on others’ usage.

  59. organic […]
    But they stink! and they are irritants as well.

    I wasn’t serious. Just making a halfhearted pun on two senses of “organic”. And maybe, a little, poking fun at imagined people who confuse the two senses. (Not that I have anything against hippies.)
    I believe that the hydrocarbons with rings in their molecular structure are called “aromatic”. Do they all have strong smells? Why?

  60. Genuine Cashmere shawls would smell of patchouli. But then French manufacturers in the 1850s hit on the idea of just scenting theirs with it. Which furnished Gautier’s vision of Baudelaire’s hash den a century before the hippies.
    I see that the schoolboy joke of seeing it in Tityre tu was used by Punch. Twice.

  61. >Empty
    You can read in this website about “aromaticity” and its history. An aromatic compound not only needs to have a ring but this one must have unsaturated conjugated bonds. As for smell (strong or not), some aromatic compound could lead to believe in anosmia : -).
    However, it’s probably you have sometimes smelled this compound without ring whose name has been well chosen:

  62. There was something in the local paper recently about corpseflowers blooming at the zoo, but as far as I can make out the compounds given off by this humongous flower have nothing to do with cadaverine.

  63. compounds given off by this humongous flower
    Dimethyl disulfide and Dimethyl trisulfide.

  64. >Empty
    The mercaptans are a group of organic compounds with S (the element related to the smell of devil :- ) ) in its composition (as also the compounds quoted by MMcM) and are added to some odorless gases, like GLP, to warn us against gas leaks. According to Wiki (really to Guinness Book), the ethanethiol, one of them, is the smelliest substance in existence.
    I’m sorry, I didn’t want to get off the subject.

  65. Trond Engen says

    It appears that any comment with substance is accepted here.

  66. The Camphorated Hippies would make a good band name.
    Neon Crypton Ammoniated FitzJohn!

  67. “It appears that any comment with substance is accepted here.”
    i can’t say my comments are with substance except they express my opinion on the topics but i continue getting my own special treatment, hopefully not the training still what is going on
    so perhaps your comment is like a bit overgeneralizing there

  68. John Cowan
    Psychedelic + chemistry + vinyl = The Chemical Brothers.

  69. Trond Engen says

    The Camphorated Hippies would make a good band name.
    Neon Crypton Ammoniated FitzJohn!
    Psychedelic + chemistry + vinyl = The Chemical Brothers.
    It appears that any commenter on substances is accepted here.

  70. Trond Engen says

    read: I’ll confess I planned this as a two-step joke, but I didn’t find the occasion for part two. Sad, that, since I realized part one wasn’t worth it.

  71. A bit related to the name “vinyl” instead of “record” or even “album” I wonder if you used it, for example, in the 60’s. I imagine that use was born after cd’s of other kinds of formats. I think that it’s pretty much like the adjective “digital” to the watches. I remember that when I knew those watches I thought that the “classical” watches might have an associated adjective as well, although then it was unnecessary. Also that happens with turbodiesel, the diesel engine with turbocharger; until this invent we used to say only diesel engine. I confess I had to ask a mechanic to know the occult adjective.

  72. Trond, are you saying that your joke was substandard?

  73. Only part one was substandard. Apparently part two just never showed up or was cancelled. That’s two different problems in one two-step joke.

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