Date: Thu, 22 Jan 1998 15:09:59 -0500

From: Alan Baragona baragonasa[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]VAX.VMI.EDU

Subject: No subject given

At 02:36 PM 1/22/98 EST, Michael Montgomery wrote:

A student has raised a question about English grammar that I am not sure

I can answer: why does _fiche_, which certainly seems to be a count noun,

have a zero plural? That is: one fiche, fifteen fiche, etc. I do not

see that the noun is a reduction from a phrase such as "xx page(s) of

(micro)fiche." Another student puckishly suggested that _fiche_ so

behaves because of its closeness in pronunciation to _fish_. Additions

to the language are not supposed to have zero plurals, are they?

Michael Montgomery

Dept of English

Univ of South Carolina

Columbia SC 29208

In fact, American Heritage Dictionary does give "microfiches" as a secondary

plural form. So the question is why the preference for the zero plural in

common usage, as well as in the dictionary. Could it have something to do

with influence by the phonetics of the original French? The plural final

s wouldn't be pronounced in French, and the English word maintains a

French quality in both the i and ch . If we Anglicized the French plural

and pronounced the s , would the final [z] in "fiches" make us want to

Anglicize the plural form of the word to sound like "fitch" (short central

i and affricate ch --wish I could do IPA in e-mail), so to maintain the

"base" pronunciation on the French model, we just use a zero plural?

Is that all too convoluted? Is Ockham spinning in his grave? Is it just

because "fiche" seems so amorphous that we just don't think of the

individual sheets. Even if I check individual sheets of microfiche, I say

"I'm checking the microfiche" in a singular sense, the same way I say (or

used to say) "I'm checking the card catalogue."

Alan Baragona


You know, years ago, my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this

world, Elwood, you must be . . ."--she always called me 'Elwood'--"In this

world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant." Well, for

years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you may quote me.

Elwood P. Dowd