By request…

Here’s a request I got from a reader:

Let’s discuss The Beatles and Queen, two great bands. I hear Queen “was” so…and Queen “were” so…

Also, I’ve heard in 2019 the grand fact (actually, opinion) that the Beatles “are” and, also that the Beatles “were” the greatest.. Plural v singular, past v present, would you please weigh in?

In general, the British consider what we’d call singular things made of multiple people– corporations, organizations, battalions, and so forth — plural. I learned this is 1982 when I went to see Jaws II in a Singapore movie theater and was presented with the title card, “Shaw Organization Present,” which looked weird to the point of incorrect. We on the rebellious side of the pond would say, “Shaw Organization Presents” because the Shaw Organization is a single entity doing the presenting, even if it consists of lots of people.

Queen and The Beatles are interesting cases. Despite what I just wrote, I think most Americans would say, “The Beatles were the defining band of the sixties and not The Beatles was….” But we’d probably also say, “Queen is entirely overrated as a band,” and not “Queen are….”

Why? Look at their names. As a band name, “The Beatles” announces right up front that we’re talking about multiple people, and the band made every effort (in its movies, etc.) to present the fab four as four real people with distinct personalities (Paul the conventional, John the offbeat, George the moody, Ringo the hapless).  “Queen” gives no such clue. It could be one person going by the stage name “Queen,” with a hell of a backup band, one guy at a hell of a synthesizer, or it could be lots of people. Queen is a singular phenomenon, an “it.”

That’s my guess as to why we say “the Beatles were…” and “Queen is…” Anybody got a counter suggestion?

Dan

 

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