Plural ascending

Many of us are pleased to live in the West Kootenay.

Yet it seems that some think we live in the West Kootenays (plural).

The West Kootenay was formed when the Kootenay district was split into East and West portions in 1888. (The dividing line is the crest of the Purcell Mountains, not Kootenay Lake as some travel writers would have it).

This is a fairly simple idea: there is a West Kootenay and an East Kootenay; taken together they are often referred to as the Kootenays. So far, so good.

After the division, reports and books began to refer to the two districts together as the East and West Kootenays. This practice seems to have lasted though the Second World War. But, in the 1950s, writers began to use the same cadence when referring to the western district alone. Some called the district the West Kootenays—a bit of linguistic ineptitude that implied that there were multiple West Kootenays.

At first the plural usage seems to have been confined deep inside obscure governmental documents written under contract by those from afar. But, by the 1970s the plural began to appear in books written by locals, and, gasp, even in book titles: Growth in the West Kootenays (1972), A History of Logging in the West Kootenays (1988).

We can track the plural use in books with a superb linguistic tool released in 2010: Google’s, Books Ngram Viewer. Type in a word or phrase and see its use across time and many millions of books. Choose the phrase (or phrases), the time period, the smoothing, and the language.

Below is a graph covering 1970 to 2000 and showing the appearance in books of West Kootenay with and without the s. A striking feature of the graph is the ascent of the plural in the later portion of the twentieth century. In books, it now almost rivals the singular.

Sigh….Incidence of West Kootenay and West Kootenays in books (a smoothing of 2 was used)

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15 Responses to Plural ascending

  1. Ron says:

    This particularly annoying pluralization appears multiple times in the latest publication, “West Kootenay Wild”! [at least the title is correct]

  2. Kyle says:

    How true, how true. Mind you, it could be worse; let’s hope ‘West Kootenay Rockies’ never catches on…

  3. Greg Nesteroff says:

    Fascinating. This essentially squares with my findings. I have scattered examples of “West Kootenays” and “East Kootenays” from 1898-1948, primarily by out-of-area authors unfamiliar with the nuance. It became much more common beginning in the 1950s, and reached epidemic proportions by the 1970s. Yet I can find no commentary on the subject prior to a Jan. 20, 1985 letter in the Castlegar News under the headline: “It’s West Kootenay.”

    I am sick to death of this frequent and glaring error that looms repeatedly in the media as, for example, in an article on the front page of your Jan. 6 paper concerning repairs to fire trucks at Selkirk College. I have lived here all my life and I am at a loss as to where the “West Kootenays” are. For your enlightenment, there is an East Kootenay and a West Kootenay. There is no East Kootenays and no West Kootenays. The Kootenays is used only when referring to both districts.
    Allen O. Woodrow

    I also note a letter in the current issue of British Columbia Magazine, under the headline “Two Kootenays,” which points out the tendency for people to say Kootenays even when they are referring exclusively to East or West.

  4. Josh W. says:

    It would sound funny if someone said “North Okanagans.” However, I hear “West Kootenays” far more than “West Kootenay” so, to me, it doesn’t sound funny.

    It reminds me of how, in Spanish, they say “vacaciones” (plural) which means “vacation” (singular in English.) However, to them, it all sounds right despite contradicting the real numeric meaning. I have yet to find any explanation as to why they do this. Somewhere along the line, it was adopted in the vernacular and stuck.

    I still think I am from the West Kootenays and will continue to use the expression (for now anyway). To me, and likely for many others, it sounds right.

    Of course, it takes a while for academic standards to adopt a more commonly used lexicon in favour of grammatical correctness. It’s not professors who generally create language. At times, they pick it apart as if it is a hard science and play by rules that are sometimes reluctantly adopted. However, there is a need for language to be a living, evolving art based on sounds, descriptive emphasis and as much efficiency as the current culture demands.

    • Alistair says:

      Josh is clearly correct when he observes that the term, West Kootenays, has become so common in speech that it now sounds comfortable in a way that something such as North Okanagans would not. Indeed, the plot in the blog posting clearly supports his position: the plural form abounds. Yet, I suspect he misses the mark with his populist putdown of reflective thought. The issue has nothing to do with either higher education or grammar (both forms are grammatically correct). Rather, it is more a matter of being able to apply skills mastered by most toddlers: can you count to two?

      • Josh W. says:

        Alistair, if both forms are grammatically correct, then what’s the problem?

        • Alistair says:

          Chuckle.., both descriptors satisfy the rules of grammar, but only one satisfies the rules of logic. It is simply a matter of being able to count the number of West Kootenays. No matter how hard I look, I have only been able to locate one of them.

          Yet, in the end, the objective of the posting was to scan thousands of book to see which term was used. Although I offered wry comments, I understand that my biases are irrelevant to the flow of language. On that point you and I are in agreement: the plural usage is common and increasing.

          • LeonD says:

            When I say West Kootenay it feels like something is missing. West Kootenay Region sounds complete. When I say West Kootenays it sounds complete to me. It also sounds correct, because I consider the term to include all the different communities in this Region.

          • Alistair says:

            I would not argue with your sense of the feel of the words. Yet, I suspect that this feel is based upon what you hear said around you rather than upon logic. If your argument about a region (singular) containing many communities had much basis, wouldn’t you also speak about the Okanagans and the Caraboos? And how about the Vancouver Islands and the Fraser Valleys (and the Ontarios)? Is not each a region (singular) comprising communities (plural)?

  5. Josh W. says:

    Well, I’m certainly glad the thousands of books in this study have nothing to do with grammar or higher education as you pointed out, Alistair. We’d hate for any of the myriad publications in this study to be worthy of any academic scrutiny, wouldn’t we?

  6. Josh W. says:

    I should also mention, my acerbity aside, that this blog is truly wonderful with a lot of terrific photos. It’s great to see someone so engaged and interested in our natural surroundings. Thanks for it.

    • Alistair says:

      Josh, I have more experience with challenges than compliments—so, I blush. Thank you for those words, which I had to reread a few times. Both website (organized topically) and blog (organized temporally) are my journals of discovery as I try to understand my surroundings.

  7. Oracle says:

    Thank you for all the great info! After a long debate last night at the local pub in Kaslo, I am now clear on the division between the East and West Kootenay.


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