Etymology Grammar

Is “Red Sox” plural?

Q: I write to inquire if “Red Sox” is singular or plural. It SOUNDS plural but it doesn’t LOOK plural. I guess this confusion is another reason not to like them so much.

A: “Red Sox” is indeed plural.

The noun “sox” is described by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “commercial and informal spelling of socks, pl. of sock.”

More to the point, the OED notes that the word is “also used as the final element in the names of some sports teams, esp. in U.S. Baseball.”

However, the first citation for the word in the dictionary is credited not to a sportswriter but to H. G. Wells, who used it in his novel Kipps (1905):

“He abbreviated every word he could; he would have considered himself the laughing-stock of Wood Street if he had chanced to spell socks in any way but ‘sox.’ ”

Another novelist, Zora Neale Hurston, used the word in a short story published in the American Mercury (1942):  “Dat broad couldn’t make the down payment on a pair of sox.”

Paul Dickson, in The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (3rd ed.), traces the name “Red Sox” to the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first professional team. The Red Stockings were formed in 1869 and named for their colorful hosiery.

“When the Red Stockings broke up following the 1870 season,” Dickson writes, “many team members headed to Boston to form a new National Association team in 1871, and they carried with them both the name and the red stockings for which they were famous.”

During the late 19th century, several Boston teams wore red stockings.

“When the rival Boston Beaneaters of the National League abandoned its red stockings following the 1906 season,” Dickson says, “the American League team named itself ‘Red Sox’ in 1907 and donned red stockings in 1908.”

The franchise had entered the American League in 1901 and used several other names before adopting “Red Sox.”

However, Boston wasn’t the first town to cheer for a team named “Sox.”

In Chicago, various teams calling themselves the White Stockings (sometimes National Association, sometimes National League, and sometimes American League) played from around 1870 into the early 20th century.

It was because of a dispute over the use of the name “White Stockings,” according to Dickson, that the American League franchise in Chicago adopted the name “White Sox” in 1904.

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