Wild grammar

Now that the Minnesota Wild have — or has — been sold, is it time for a new team name? Anything will do that will, once and for all, settle the question of what verb should follow the name?

Are they an “is” or are they an “are”?

Minnesota Wild is sold said the headline on the MPR Web site. Technically, I suppose, that’s correct. Wild at least sounds like a singular noun so it would take the singular form is, even if it sounds wrong, especially when newscasters announce that the Wild is in Detroit tonight to play the Red Wings, who, it should be pointed out are home to play the Wild tonight. Perhaps that’s why we can never beat them; it’s many against one.

The big problem comes with the fact wild is not a noun, it’s an adjective that, through repetitive misuse, became a noun as people dropped the noun that went after it — the wild woods, the wild prairie etc.

A few months ago I submitted the question to the arbiter of proper usage in manners of journalism, the Associated Press. I got this response from style guru David Minthorn:

The “collective nouns” entry of the AP Stylebook says team names take plural verbs. So, the Minnesota Wild are ….

The AP’s story on the sale today showed the organization’s plural style.

Success on the ice has been limited for the Wild, who have made the playoffs twice in six seasons and are currently in seventh place in the Western Conference.

But the Wild, and many news organizations — I’m talking about you, Star Tribune — insist Wild takes the singular. If true,one would read, perhaps, that however many dollars Leipold paid for the team are a lot of money.

Nonplused, I submitted the issue to local grammar arbiter Luke Taylor, who handles the Grammar Grater podcast.

“The difficulty with this singular form is that we as humans tend to think of the Wild as a group of players and naturally want to refer to the team in the plural, yet people in the U.S. and Canada are generally trained to use singular verbs with groups. And that’s where a real mess arises: using the singular verb in the sentence is fine, but the you’re required to use the singular pronoun ‘it’ later on.

We’d be relieved from all this insanity if we just adopted the BBC News Styleguide’s approach. It reads, ‘In sport, teams are always plural. England are expected to beat the Balaeric Islands; Tranmere Rovers have extended their lead at the top of the Premiership.’ (See page 31 in this pdf)

The problem with that approach is that using plural verbs after words like ‘England,’ ‘Manchester United’ or ‘Chicago’ sounds strange to North American ears. but I have to admit I’m partial to the BBC’s approach on collectives because it just seems to fit our human instinct to refer to a group as an actual group and not as an amorphous, inanimate ‘it.’

Long story short: my final say with a team such as the Wild is to do what you think sounds best, singular or plural, but then adhere to that form once you’ve made your choice, remembering to stay consistent with any subsequent pronouns you may use throughout your piece of writing.

As Luke’s reponse indicates, a definitive “rule” is hard to come by here.

And so I asked Mary Steen, the English Department chair at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

I’m not a complete authority on such matters, but I’d say that the singular verb is appropriate for a team.

Here’s what Diane Hacker says in her Pocket Manual of Style (I don’t have the Chicago Manual or some more journalistic manual at hand, but you probably do.):

Collective nouns such as jury, committee, club, audience, crowd, class, troop, family, and couple name a class or group. In American English, collective nouns are usually treated as singular. …Occasionally, where there is some reason to draw attention to the individual members of the group a collective noun may be treated as plural: A young couple were arguing about politics while holding hands.

Vern Bailey, who runs the English Department at Carleton says…

British sportcasters and most Brits consider a sports team a group of individuals — “Manchester are leading the rest after the second series.”

The American sportcasters and public conceptualize a sports team as a single entity so they say “Notre Dame is leading after two quarters.”

Both are correct. The difference can be considered idiomatic, an established pattern that needs no rule to explain it.

Paula Rabinowitz, English Department chair at the University of Minnesota…

I don’t have my copy of the Chicago Manual with me–I’m home and it’s in my office–but I would say is is what is.

“Is is what is.” Now that’s style.

  • Jayne

    The Wild is a team. Or an organization. And as such, would be singular in my book. Now if you talk about players on the team or coaches of the team or members of the organization, knock yourself and use the plural.

    The thornier question for me is a team name like the Vikings. It’s still a team, or an organization. And individuals on the team are not “Vikings” — they are Vikings players. But I’ll never win this one in the court of public opinion.

  • Jayne

    My copyediting is so brilliant. I meant to say “knock yourself out” not “knock yourself.” Carry on.

  • Bob Collins

    Jayne, Jayne, Jayne! Why do you torment me so?

    You’ve invoked a new front here.

    So, if the rule is it is a collective singular based on it being an organization, then wouldn’t the Vikings being singular, too?

    So if the Vikings were, I mean was, in the playoffs this weekend, we would then need to say “the Vikings IS in Green Bay?”

    This is the consistency issue I alluded to in the Red Wings comparison. Two teams, same number of players, same rules, same ice surface. but one team IS playing and the other ARE playing.

    My head hurts.

  • Sylvia

    How about using the s/he solution? ex: The Vikings is/are in Green Bay. Just call it Creative English, no rules. Or perhaps Wild English. And just be glad English doesn’t assign gender (male, female, neuter) to nouns, avoiding yet another layer of complexity.

  • Richard

    I prefer the British style. It sounds so refined. The Queen’s staff might issue a press release as follows:

    Buckingham Palace are pleased to learn of the sale of the Minnesota Wild. Her Majesty expressed her confidence that the Wild are in a position to kick serious butt in the playoffs.

  • Tony Lopez

    We Musicheads often run into a similar quandary when it comes to bands.

    It’s easy to say “The Black Lips are coming to town this month.”

    But then what about a group like Dr. Dog? Would you say “Dr. Dog is…” or “Dr. Dog are…”?

    And don’t get me started on artists like Sam Beam who perform under a band-like moniker. Would it then be “Iron and Wine is…”?

    I’ve got a headache now.