Apple is unusually careful to avoid pluralizing their product names. Perhaps subsequently, a number of poor pluralization practices have sprung up around Apple’s more unusual monikers. As Western people, we know both the value of high linguistic standards and quality consumer electronics. It’s time to establish good, grammatically-correct standards for talking about our Apple products in the plural.
We must set aside such malformed constructions as “MacBook Airs” and “iPod touches.” Such utterances make us out to be semi-intelligent apes stumbling upon a giant, unibody obelisk whose seamless aluminum surface is broken only by a glowing fruit logo. We are a higher breed of consumer, and we will show forth both our erudition and our love of high manufacturing tolerances.
Consider the following, grammatically-correct pluralizations:
- MacBooks Pro
- MacBooks Air
- iPods touch
- iPods nano
- iPods shuffle
If you are like me, you are now convinced of the self-evident correctness of these formulations and require no further persuasion. Feel free to skip the rest of what follows. But perhaps the mere music of the words “iPods touch” is not sufficient to convert you. After all, “everybody else calls them iPod touches.” Well, the whims of the masses are frequently a poor barometer of wisdom in life choices.
Consider also that English as a recognizably distinct language is at least 1500 years old, whereas Apple Inc. is a mere 24 years old — and internet punditry (and pedantry) is younger yet. It is likely that English, though it will undoubtedly evolve, will long outlast both the maker of our MacBooks Air and the ecosystem of customers, critics and clairvoyants that have crystallized around it. It will certainly outlast your own personal iPod nano, and it will outlast you. It behooves us to steward well this linguistic heritage and pass it on to our future generations unspoiled by techno-barbarisms.
Certainly Apple’s product names are grammatically… quirky. However it can be seen that they are not grammatically incorrect, if you take into account certain peculiarities of the language.
First, a note of clarification: the product names in view here are not to be confused with compound words. Compound words require the joining of two words into a single, new word: barnyard, pincushion, lighthouse and so on. (Now, “MacBook” does appear to be a compound word and we do not need to pluralize it as “Macs Book” [hat tip to Brian Behrend for raising this issue.]) Apple’s product names do not fit the compound word model.
The best way to understand Apple’s nomenclature, in my view, is to view each example as a noun followed by a noun acting as an adjective. This requires that English allow for two things: nouns that act as adjectives, and nouns that precede the adjectives which modify them. Happily, it allows for both.
I will deal with the more unusual case first. In many languages, it is not only common for nouns to precede their adjectives but actually expected. In English, this is unusual; but certainly not unheard-of, particularly in poetry or elevated prose. Consider the phrase from Coleridge, “it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural”; or Poe’s “Once upon a midnight dreary.”
On the question of the noun exchanging its role for that of the adjective, examples are so commonplace as to be utterly mundane: “army general,” “race horse,” “school teacher,” “world war” and so on. You are reading this tedious essay on a “web page.” There’s nothing mysterious about these constructions.
We’ve thus established that A) nouns may be followed by the adjectives which modify them and B) nouns may themselves serve as adjectives. It thus only stands to reason that C) a noun may be followed by another noun which serves as an adjective modifying the leading noun. This is exactly the construction which Apple prefers to employ in marketing its product lines. A “MacBook Air” is an “Air” sort of MacBook. An “iPod touch” is a “touch” sort of iPod. I do not believe there is a more common-sense way in which these appellations (Apple-lations?) could be understood.
If we wish to be respecters of the language, we ought then to pluralize our Apple products correctly. We should speak of “iPods nano” and not “iPod nanos.” “MacBooks Pro,” not “MacBook Pros.” Please, join with me in standing up for proper English in our discourse about mass market computing devices.
(One final bit of pedantry: You may be tempted, as I was, to assume the word “shuffle” in “iPod shuffle” is being used as a verb — “an iPod that shuffles.” This would necessitate the pluralization be rendered as “iPods shuffling.” Were this the case, however, the singular would also need be altered to “iPod shuffling.” We can thus see that Apple intends “shuffle” here to be understood in its noun form, “an act of shuffling.” It is a “shuffle” kind of iPod, and the pluralization method is the same as for their other product lines.)
Update: Apple’s official stance is “trademarks are adjectives, and cannot be made plural or possessive.” So Apple’s preference seems to be that we refer to “iPod touch devices” and “MacBook Air computers” over any other alternatives. Take that for what it’s worth.