[lit-ideas] "Not many people -- just one." (Was: Geary)

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 9 May 2004 13:55:31 EDT

Dedicated to Geary, _grammaticien extraordinaire_:
"â??Stick yer four-bits in yer shoeâ??, he snorted, â??I'm people.â??" 
                 Detective Fiction Weekly 28 Apr. 1934 113/1 

In a message dated 5/9/2004 12:12:28 PM Eastern Standard Time, 
judithevans001@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:
> >Any guidance on explaining the difference between "people" and
> "persons" to a
> >twelve year old would be appreciated.  She asked yesterday.
> Although I have
> >a pretty firm intuitive grasp of the difference and would have
> thought it easy
> >enough to explain, I found myself at a total loss.  I use the
> two differently
> >and consistently differently but suddenly I find it impossible
> to articulate
> >a logical definitional distinction. 
If 'people' is from L. 'populus', the people, the populace, one would think 
that, as in the Romance languages, 'people' is singular ("people is..."). Yet, 
it's "people are..." (A common translation mistake in online speech). I wonder 
if Middle English had it as "people is..."?

The etym. note in the OED reads:

"people" --a. AF. poeple (Britton), people (Rolls of Parlt.) = OF. pople, 
poeple, pueple, peuple, puple = Pr. poble, pobol, Sp. pueblo, It. popolo:L. 
populum, acc. of populus the people, the populace.])

Interestingly, the very first quote has 'people est', but then it's 
Anglo-Norman (French):
1292 BRITTON I. Introd.,: 
    "Edward..Roi de Engleterre..Desirauntz pes entre 
    le poeple qe est en nostre proteccioun."
(rather than the _plural_ form: "que sont ...".
Another quote from 1400 also has 'people' with singular forms:
1400 St. Alexius (Laud 622) 563 
    "Ffor littynges grete, & onder blast, Wel sore e poeple was agast." 
Interestingly, too, there is a section in the OED for 'people' where it is 
defined as "an individual, a person. (U.S. colloq.)."
The quotes being:
1926 J. BLACK You can't Win ix. 105 
"He's good people and I want to get him fixed up for a cell with the right 
1934 Detective Fiction Weekly 28 Apr. 113/1 
"â??Stick yer four-bits in yer shoeâ??, he snorted, â??I'm people.â??" 
1949 â??N. R. NASHâ?? Young & Fair I. ii. 14, 
"I guess she's people of good heart." 
1956 B. HOLIDAY Lady sings Blues (1973) x. 98 
"A lot of creeps have been dogging Orson Welles ever since but they can't 
touch him. He's a fine cat... And a talented cat. But more than that, he's fine 
This is all still different from:
   A: How many people were in the room?
   B: *Only one people was in the room: Mrs. Dawson.
But cf. "There were not many people in the room. In fact, only one." (or "In 
fact only one: Mrs Dawson.")

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