Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meat whats?

I made a snappy joke this afternoon about a miracle involving meat loaves and fishes, and it set off a discussion at our kitchen table: what is the plural of meat loaf?

Garner’s Modern American Usage notes that some nouns ending in -f change to -ves to form their plurals (scarf, scarves), while others add an -s (roof, roofs). Garner gives loaves as the plural of loaf. And when we’re speaking of baked goods, loaves sounds just right. But I’m not at all sure that meat loaves sounds right. It sounds, to my ear, exceedingly odd. But then so does meat loafs, though I’ve tried to hear it as comparable to still lifes:

I painted six still lifes and baked six meat loafs.
Oaf, by the way, becomes oafs.

Reader, which do you prefer? Meat loafs? Meat loaves? Oafs? Chicken?

[The Oxford English Dictionary seems rather British in its definition of meat loaf: “Minced or chopped meat moulded into the shape of a loaf and cooked; generally eaten cold, in slices. Usu. with qualifying word, as beef loaf, ham loaf, meat loaf, veal loaf.” The Dictionary notes that the entry for loaf  “has not yet been fully updated (first published 1903).”]

comments: 13

Elaine Fine said...

Meat loves are what I make for you, but only one at a time.

The Arthurian said...

Perhaps the same form for singular and plural? There are six deer in the back yard. My wife cooked two meat loaf yesterday.

No... Maybe there should be a law that you can only talk about one meatloaf at a time?

Sorry. I'm not comfortable with "meatloaf" as two words.

Matthew Schmeer said...

Bread loaf, bread loaves. Loaves of bread.

Meat loaf, meat loaves. Loaves of meat.

"Meat" is an adjective modifying a noun. I'd stick with Garner on this one.

For "still life," however, the plural is "still lifes". Life in this usage is the state of being in general, not the experience of existing through time. Since the state of being is a singular constant, it cannot be pluralized. "Still lifes" is correct in this case. "Still lives" sounds a ward full of comatose patients.

Marzek said...

I'd have to go with "meatloaf" as one word. The internet would seem to agree: there are far more google results for "meatloaf recipe" than "meat loaf" recipe. (I added recipe as a modifer to remove references to that singer dude).
You might find a recipe for meat loaf in a cook book, but would be more likely to find a recipe for meatloaf in a cookbook.
"Meatloaves" sounds weird. If I made more than one, I'd probably say, "I made meatloaf* for dinner. And I made another for sandwiches."

* Thinking how I'd say it, I hear myself omitting the article. I'd make corned beef, not a corned beef.
I'm hungry!

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, everyone, for the food for thought.

I had typed meatloaf and changed it when I saw that Merriam-Webster and the OED both have it as two words. That was news to me.

I can’t gainsay Garner, but I’ll stick with my sense that meat loaves sounds odd. (Looks odd too.) Maybe it’s best, as Elaine and the Arthurian suggest, to take things one meat loaf or meatloaf at a time.

Sean said...

Oughtn't it be meats loaf? ;)

For now, I'm sticking with the imaginary "meatlofen".

Michael Leddy said...

I recall this Onion item.

normann said...

These days, meatloaf is spelled polpettone at our house, the plural of which is polpettoni. This is purely academic, since there is only room for only one of them in my Le Creuset enamel cast iron dutch oven (my recipe for polpettone alla toscana is a stovetop version braised in white wine - grazie, Marcella!).

Michael Leddy said...

That looks like a socko dish.

Slywy said...

What do you think of the whole "to medal" issue? "The U.S. team has failed to medal." "The team has medaled in three events." "She's sure to medal in this race." Because I'm a lot less comfortable with "to medal" than with meat loaf/meatloaf/meat loaves/meatloaves/meat loafs/meatloafs. And no one's talking to me about it.

Michael Leddy said...

I looked it up in Garner’s Modern American Usage: “Although the OED records medal as a verb in a transitive sense — ‘to decorate or honour with a medal; to confer a medal upon’ — the modern trend is to use the word intransitively, as by saying that an athlete medaled in an event. In this sense, it is roughly equivalent to place. I looked at the OED: the first transitive use was 1860; the first intransitive use, 1865. Garner doesn’t express disapproval.

I can’t say I like to medal, but then I’m pretty removed from the world of sport. Is there any particular reason why you’re thinking about this word now? :)

Elaine said...

I never make but one at a time, so happily I've never had to craft a sentence like, "I've baked a meatloaf duo."
But I would be looking for a way out of that dilemma, because neither option sounded okay to my ear.
[I have a good, (if immodest) ear.]

You just love finding these conundrums, eh?

Michael Leddy said...

It just happened, honest. The Bible is to blame (i.e., loaves and fishes).

Elaine, your comment on the fuzzy-image post looks like a string of digits got tacked on by mistake. I don’t know if it’s a Social Security number or what, so I’m not putting it online. Always cautious.