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4 August, 2004

Singular abbreviations

Can anyone think of a Brit English word which is plural when spelled out in full, but singular when abbreviated (not counting acronyms)?
The example which sparked discussion at the weekend was 'mathematics', abbreviated to 'math', but that's US English, and in UK English, simply wrong.

Incidentally, to tie up that example, Mathematics is definitely a plural - it's the combination of the three mathematical sciences of arithmetic, geometry and analysis (algebra, etc.). There are individual mathematical sciences (though it's an uncommon phrase), but there's no such thing as a mathematic, so 'math' is meaningless, or at least idiosyncratic.


It would seem that "mathematics" is itself an abbreviation and cannot therefore be referred to as a plural word. If there is no such thing as a "mathematic", as you state, how can there be several "mathematics."

I don't think that either "mathematics" or "math" (or the British "maths", for that matter) is used as a noun but as an adjective ("math class", "math text" etc.) and when used as one word, it is an abbreviation.

By the way, on the topic of abbreviations, can you think of a common word which is commonly abbreviated with its first letter, it first and second letter, its first three letters, its first four letters and its first five letters?

Posted by Jon. Waller at August 4, 2004 05:45 PM

Eh? 'Mathematics' isn't an abbreviation. It's not a contraction of 'mathematical sciences', if that's what you meant!

'Mathematics' is indeed a noun.

There is no such thing as a mathematic - the word is an adjective, so you're right that 'mathematic' isn't a noun.
However, the quoted examples don't use the abbreviation 'math' as an adjective. US students study 'Math' in a 'math class'; an adjective might define it as a 'boring' math class, but 'math' itself is a noun - the class is in the subject named 'Math'. An economics class isn't cheap, and few history classes are historic, as that word is generally understood.
I suppose a 'math text' might be mathematical, but that's 'mathematical' - in general usage the suffix applies. In practice, the phrase 'math text', or in the UK 'maths text' would be a text about Math (or Maths in the UK) - a noun.

This is rather leaving the central point, that I'm wondering whether plurals are always abbreviated as plurals in UK English. I'm aware that 'math' is a recognised word in US English, but I am specifically talking about Brit English - here in the UK, 'math' is just incorrect (as is 'recognized', for that matter!).

Posted by NRT at August 4, 2004 07:49 PM


Posted by Saltation at August 4, 2004 09:18 PM
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