The Grammarphobia Blog

Time trial

Q: I heard a football play-by-play man use “times-out” as the plural of “timeout.” I think that’s incorrect, in contrast to a sportscaster who referred to “R’sBI” as the plural for “runs batted in.” That, I believe, is right. Or, is it overly fussy?

A: Could the play-by-play guy have said “time’s out,” the contracted form of “time is out”? Otherwise, the plural of “timeout” is “timeouts,” though a Google check suggests that not everyone has gotten the word.

In case you’re interested, the term “timeout” entered English more than a century ago as a football term.

The first published reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is from an 1896 book about football: “Time out, time taken out by the referee when play is not actually in progress.”

Over the years, the term has been written as two separate words (“time out”), two words hyphenated (“time-out”), and a single word (“timeout”).

In sportswriting and parenting, it’s increasingly being spelled as one word, according to Garner’s Modern American Usage.

I wrote a blog item earlier this year about how compound terms begin life as separate parts and then get mushed together over time.

How do we pluralize these terms?

If a compound is one solid word, put a normal plural at the end of the word: “Doormen are good at getting taxicabs.”

If the compound is split into parts, with or without hyphens, put the plural ending on the most important part: “Do rear admirals serve on men-of-war?”

(The two examples above are from the new third edition of my grammar book Woe Is I.)

As for runs batted in, forget you ever heard “R’sBI.” That would be like using “P’sOW” instead of POWs.” I wrote a blog entry recently on how to pluralize “RBI.”

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