English English language Etymology Usage Word origin

A goldenrod rule?

Q: A group of rather literary friends recently corrected me for using the word “goldenrods.” They said the plural of the wildflower is the same as the singular. Does “goldenrod” become plural by adding an “s,” like “flower,” or does it stay the same, like “deer”?

A: The dictionaries I’ve consulted don’t indicate that the singular and plural of this word are the same (as they do for invariable nouns like “deer,” “moose,” “sheep,” “swine,” and so on).

So I would conclude that “goldenrod” forms its plural the normal way, with the addition of an “s,” as in “The bouquet included three irises, two lilies, and four goldenrods.”

As an amateur gardener, however, I do know that people with green thumbs often use the singular in referring to plants: “We planted five dozen iris and two dozen crocus last fall” or “I like the way you’ve grouped your three daphne” (instead of “irises,” crocuses,” and “daphnes”).

And plants are often spoken of in the singular, as in “Slender fragrant goldenrod flowers in the summer” (instead of “goldenrods flower”) or “That field of lance-leaved goldenrod is striking.”

Despite these common conventions, “goldenrod” isn’t treated as an invariable noun by dictionaries, which means that technically it has a separate plural.

By the way, the term “goldenrod,” which refers to a plant of the genus Solidago, first appeared in English in a 1568 book by the British botanist William Turner.

All this reminds me of the headline on a “Cuttings” column in the New York Times some years ago: “Just Call Them Glads and Move On From There.”

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