No play, no plurals

I should know better than to be surprised by the language used on signs, but the phrase “Ball sports is prohibited” struck me as a remarkable singularisation.

Did the parties responsible start with “The playing of ball sports…” before deciding to reduce the word count? Whatever the explanation, at least this time there’s a minimum of gobbledegook.

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10 Responses to No play, no plurals

  1. Perhaps the powers in control of Salthill Park actually meant to prohbit Mr B Sports from the park…

  2. Fran says:

    I guess if you use ‘ball sports’ as a noun phrase like you would ‘football’ or ‘paper clip juggling’, it works. But I suspect this isn’t what they meant…..

  3. Laura says:

    How about just “No ball sports”?

  4. wisewebwoman says:

    Sounds like there’s not much allowed in good ol’ Salthill Park.
    I think it started out with the ball not being allowed, someone said, no a ball is OK, but they can’t be sporty with it….
    As Gaeilge it’s a little clearer.
    XO
    WWW

  5. Tim says:

    It could potentially make sense if you see the first two as a compound word of sorts (containing a space). But it is more likely that it is just singularisation in place of a plural.

    After all, many foreign language speakers have trouble learning our use of “be” — much like many things in English — as it comes in different forms. Whoever wrote the sign was familiar with plurals; perhaps just not accustomed to choosing the right form of “is” to accompany them.

    Our pronoun / verb combinations make for an interesting case. But it is all something that learners of English must just practise until they get it right.

    My wife still struggles with choosing the right form(s) of words and her English is very fluent. She just messes up is/are and plurals, coming from a language that doesn’t pluralise to the same degree that we do. English is so very specific in its vernacular, and that is one thing I love about our language.

  6. Stan says:

    Jams: Poor Mister Sports! There’s no mention of his wife, Water, but then she wouldn’t be able to play there anyway except on very wet days.

    Fran: It’s hard to tell what they meant. If your example was extended to e.g. “Football and touch rugby…”, it would have to be followed by are. Ball sports is a noun phrase, but that doesn’t make it singular or a mass noun. In the sign, it’s used as if it were a singular-only noun ending in s, like mathematics or news. But it isn’t — unless I’m out of date with sports jargon, or signese is newly respectable.

    Laura: That would work, but it’s far too straightforward for an official sign!

    WWW: I walk through or cycle past the park regularly, and I see ball sports in progress as often as not. So at least the finger-wagging prohibition is weakly enforced or not at all. It’s a large park, by Galway’s standards, with plenty of room for casual ball games, except on the rare occasions when an event (e.g. extended sunshine) brings crowds and leaves no space.

    Tim: As with Fran’s noun phrase idea, ball sports as a compound word doesn’t make it singular — unless it’s considered a singular-only noun, in which case it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s a compound.

    What you wrote in your second paragraph is a possibility, but it’s hard to believe that sign-writing responsibility in an English-speaking country was given to someone unfamiliar with the difference between is and are. It seems more likely that it was an oversight by someone who knows the difference very well, knows that “Sport is…” and “Sports are…”, but is unaccustomed to writing plain English. Prolonged exposure to officialese can have all sorts of weird consequences.

  7. Just out of curiosity, the Irish name for Salthill Park is Pairc Bhothar an Tra (I’ve omitted the fadas). Doesn’t that mean the Beach Road Park?

  8. Stan says:

    Doubtful: More or less. Bóthar na Trá is the Irish name for Salthill; it’s translated variously as Beach Road, Shore Road, and Strand Road. I don’t know where “Salthill” comes from. I must find out.

  9. cormac says:

    My current favourites are;
    the AIB cash dispensers that helpfully tell you to “please remove your card if you have not already done so”

    and the Vodafone messaging service which suggests “when you have finished your call just hang up”

  10. Stan says:

    Cormac: The AIB message might be a response to the many forgetful users who leave their cards behind, so I’ll forgive it, but the Vodaphone one seems completely unnecessary: a condescending Idiot’s Guide To Telephony.

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