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Stuff and things

Posted by R. Berg on August 09, 2001

In Reply to: Stuff and things posted by Markitos on August 09, 2001

: : : : : A good method to distinguish countable from uncountable nouns is to attempt to use specific adjectives to modify them--"much" and "little" only modify uncountable nouns, "many" and "few" only modify countable nouns. So, there can be "much gossip" and "many rumors" but not "many gossips" or "much rumors." And there can be "little gossip," but not "little rumor," and there can be "few rumors," but not "few gossips."

: : : : : That being said, gossip can be a countable noun, as in, "He's a gossip, and they're a bunch of gossips," or, "There's a gossip that lives down the hall."

: : : : : Hope that helps....

: : : : Yes, "gossip" is countable when it means a person. I meant that "gossip" in the sense of information--the sense Tom was asking about--isn't countable. A rumor is a piece of information: a thing. Gossip is information: stuff.

: : : : "Rumor" is uncountable in the sense illustrated by "Rumor has it that the two corporations will merge."

: : : Isn't that actually a countable instance of the word "rumor," where the article is implied but ellided? As in "[A--or--The] rumor has it that the two corporations will merge," or "[Many --or--A few--or--Exactly six] rumor[s] [have] it that the two corporations will merge." If it's actually uncountable, it seems odd that the noun becomes countable in a sentence altered by merely the insertion of an article. Uncountable uses of "rumor" seem forced and clangy: "Rumor spread through the town," "Once there was much rumor here, now there is little,"...perhaps because common usage easily assigns a plural "-s" to "rumor," unlike other uncountable nouns (like, how many "sands" are there at the beach? Or, a teapot holds how many "teas?")...

: : : And, for what it's worth, "a gossip" (signifying a person) etymologically precedes "gossip" (signifying information). Gossip became what it is because it was what a gossip--old english godsibb, for godparent--does....

: : : Is it a rule, then, that things are countable, but stuff is uncountable? (That would explain why I can never clean up my stuff....)

: : : By the way, I very much admire the site you all have developed here....

: : It doesn't sound forced to me when "rumor" is used as an uncountable noun. Webster's Unabridged, 1934, gives four senses for "rumor" the noun. The first two are marked obsolete. These are the others:
: : 3. A flying or popular report; the common talk; tidings; hence, public fame; notoriety; reputation.
: : 4. A story or report current without any known authority for its truth;--in this sense often personified.

: : It seems to me that things are indeed countable and stuff is uncountable but sometimes measurable.

: Okay then, assuming no additional obsolescence has set in since about another example?

"When it became obvious that the old mayor's housekeeper was pregnant, a cloud of rumor spread over the little town."