Tonic for writer’s block

I need to throw a question to the crowd. [UPDATE: POLL ADDED]

If you look at a reference work such as A Manual for Writers, you will find that the plurals of prepositional-phrase compounds follow the rule governing the first noun of the compound:

brothers-in-law commanders-in-chief men-of-war

Ok… here is one for everyone. What do you do (oh, is this a straight line) with …

gin and tonic

Some contend that the plural ought to be

gins and tonic

and some say

gin and tonics

The idea here is that a) the gin is the most important element, so important in fact that it must receive the emphasis – ubi maior after all – or that b) the gin and the tonic together form such a perfect synergy that the general rule must apply.

Let’s get to the bottom of our gin and tonic question.

{democracy:1}

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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63 Responses to Tonic for writer’s block

  1. Posted at “2:52 pm” (Rome time, presumably) . . .

    Happy hour starts early over there, eh Father?

    “Gin and tonics” — I could try to spin some high-faluting theory for why, but I’ll stick with, I think the alternative sounds odd.

  2. Fr. Fox: We must ask these questions while enough readers are still sober enough to respond with insight and precision.

  3. P.Bunyan says:

    Scotch & waters, black & tans, whiskey 7s and whiskey sours
    (remember those?), B&Bs, G&Ts, gin & tonics —
    they all refer to mixtures. As such, it’s the single mixture
    that becomes plural, not one or another of the ingredients.

  4. Dan Hunter says:

    In the film,”Shadowlands”,about C.S.Lewis marriage to Joy Gresham,we see them on their honeymoon at a lovely inn in the northern part of England.Whilst retiring to their room Lewis asks the servant to bring them two gin and tonics.He then corrects himself and asks for two gin’s and tonic.
    God bless you

  5. Arieh says:

    After drinking a few I say “gins anz tonics”

  6. Dan Hunter: “In the film,”Shadowlands”,about C.S.Lewis…”

    So, the screenplay writers of that film have spoken. Great example! Thanks!

  7. Jeffrey Stuart says:

    I will require an appropriate refreshment before contemplating this important question.

  8. Dan Hunter says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf,
    Are screenplay writers notoriously poor when it comes to English Grammar?

  9. tim says:

    sixth paragraph of the linked answer above

  10. dcs says:

    Why isn’t it “gins & tonics”? ;-)

    “And” isn’t a preposition (and “tonic” is not an adjective!), so I would say that it is “gin & tonics.” If the singular were “gin with tonic,” then I would say that the plural would be “gins with tonic.”

  11. Cornelius says:

    Gin and tonic? Yuk.

    Scotch and water. There’s a man’s drink. But is it “Scotches and water”? Or “Scotch and waters”? Or “Scothes and waters”?

  12. tim: That randomhouse link (above) says: “A gin and tonic is a single cocktail, not a type of gin, so the plural is gin and tonics. ”

    O really? I am not sure of that at all. There are, in fact, different sorts of gin.

  13. Dan: Touchy! Nor was there any sarcasm. Relax and have a couple gins and tonic, friend. What you posted was a great example of the very question I posed.

  14. tim says:

    Father, that’s why I initially voted for gins and tonic on the poll. :-)

  15. Mike says:

    I don’t care what you call two of them, as long as they have Bombay Sapphire in them.

  16. Tim Ferguson says:

    If one is mixing multiple different types of gin with one’s tonic (for whatever ghastly reason….one should never consider another gin if Boodles is at hand), then one would have a “gins and tonic,” but if one simply had multiple servings of the same drink, one would have “gin and tonics,” since, unlike “in-law,” “tonic” is not adjectival, but an essential component of the whole.

    Gin also seems to prefer the erudite company of a slight dash of vermouth and a large olive to the whimsical effervesence of tonic and the ricket-chasing lime. Still, there is certainly a time and a place for whimsical effervesence.

  17. Cathy Dawson says:

    Fr. Z, if you saw the destruction that alcohol abuse wreaks on individuals, families, and parishes (when the priest has a serious drinking problem) you would call them “devil’s brews”. I realize that you are not advocating getting drunk, but the casual way we treat drinking encourages those who have a problem. I can’t emphasize too much the degree of evil that people with drinking problems are capable of. I would give examples, but this is a polite forum. If you knew, you would never touch the stuff just because of the association.

  18. Cathy Cathy Cathy…

    So….. how did you vote?

  19. Dan Hunter says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf,
    Sorry.
    God bless.PS. Was that famous missionary priest who converted thousands od Indians in California named for that delicious berry that’s in gin

  20. Shakespeare says:

    Dan – CS Lewis would not have said: “gin’s and tonic” – though he might have said “gins and tonic”.

    While the tonic might well try to possess the gin (the only excuse for the misplaced apostrophe), if we’re going to try to get the plurality right we might as well try to get the grammar right also – and, yes, I realise I’ve used split infinitves twice.

  21. Tim Ferguson says:

    I’m not seeing the split infinitives. Perhaps I need another martini…

  22. Dan Hunter says:

    Shakespeare,I didn’t now you were still alive,congratulations,
    Did Lewis actually say,”I’d like two gin and tonics hold the apostraphe betwixt the n and s in gin,please”?
    God bless you.

  23. Sean says:

    It’s summer. The charcoal grill will be ready in about fifteen minutes or so. The kids are playing. Soft music is heard in the background. I ask my wife, “Would you like a Vodka Tonic or a Gin Tonic?”

    You see, Father, you asked the wrong question. In any event the answer is Both/And.

    Sean

  24. PMcGrath says:

    Father: I voted for “gin-and-tonics.” A brother-in-law, commander-in-chief, attorney-general, etc. — All of these are persons. A gin-and-tonic is a thing.

    One with ice, please.

  25. Tim Ferguson says:

    ah, but I’ve known gin-and-tonics with more sparkling personalities than some brothers-in-law.

  26. RBrown says:

    Fr. Z, if you saw the destruction that alcohol abuse wreaks on individuals, families, and parishes (when the priest has a serious drinking problem) you would call them “devil’s brews”. I realize that you are not advocating getting drunk, but the casual way we treat drinking encourages those who have a problem. I can’t emphasize too much the degree of evil that people with drinking problems are capable of. I would give examples, but this is a polite forum. If you knew, you would never touch the stuff just because of the association.

    Don’t confuse alcohol with alcoholism, just as we shouldn’t confuse food with obesity.

    The other day I saw in one store about 5 people who were easily 150 lbs overweight. My older brother is 64 and needs new knees, but he has to lose at least 75 lbs–which is unlikely. A former athlete and college football referee (or rather, an umpire) his walk is little more than a slow shuffle.

  27. Hank Petram says:

    For me, the ultimate arbiter of such questions is Fowler’s Modern English Usage. It’s gin and tonics. Fowler has spoken.

    Reason: “Our compounded drinks we usually think of as a single entity, and are likely to ask for two whisky-and-sodas, two gin-and-tonics, etc.; if we make an exception in asking for two gins-and-French, it will only be because of the awkwardness of Frenches.”

    Being a nearly exclusive bourbon drinker, I had to google “gin and French.” Apparently, it’s a very wet martini (60/40 gin/vermouth, or even 50/50 — blech!).

  28. catholiclady says:

    Of course there are several types of gin. But to say gins and tonic would imply that single cocktail containes more than one type of gin (not likely).

    Sometimes folks order their gin and tonic by brand name. For instance, Old Tom and Tonic. Would I order two Old Toms and Tonic or two Old Tom and tonics? Probably I’d say, “I’ll have a gin and tonic and she will have the same” LOL.

  29. Jon says:

    Cathy, Cathy, Cathy,

    Beware the Manichee, and remember the words of the immortal Hilaire Belloc: “Puritanism is an evil out of the pit.”

    As for me, I’m a Tanqueray and tonic man myself.

  30. rudi says:

    If it is a solemnity or a feast, one might have several, if that is so I find people often sperak of “ginandtonic”, one word; so the plural will be “ginandtonics” or even “gin’n'tonics”

  31. Two people ordering drinks at once cannot order the same thing — that’s my solution.

    So, one Gin-and-tonic, and another of something else.

  32. I can’t emphasize too much the degree of evil that people with drinking problems are capable of.

    Nor, Cathy, can one overemphasize the evil that people without drinking problems are capable of. It’s enough to drive one to drink.

  33. Gregg the obscure says:

    DCS beat me to my first thought on the issue.

    A second thought, though, is to give the G&T a proper name of its own, much like the Gin/Vermouth combo is known as a “Martini”.

    Being as Fr. Z is an afficianado of the G&T, perhaps it ought become teh “”Zuhlsdorf”.

  34. Tonic water: Blech.

    I’m with Mike the gin must be Bombay Sapphire.

    Gin and dry white vermooth: now you’re talking.

    The real question: is vermooth tonic?

    Cathy Dawson: I come from a family of alcoholics myself and I know where you
    are coming from and what you are trying to say.
    However, enjoyment in moderation of all things is fine.

  35. itsawonderfullife says:

    Of course, fos some of us who are moderate in all things, there is a name for it.

    “The usual”

    The next question is what is the best appetizer to serve with such a cocktail.

    Water cracker with creme fraiche, bit of smoked salmon, squeeze of lemon and tiny srpi of dillor smoked oysters.

  36. Pluralize it any way you wish. But it is better to take the liquor, gin or anything else, neat, and then the probem does not arise.

  37. I’m appalled that Fr Z is trying to decide this issue by common consensus. This is not the magisterial approach we have come to expect from WDTPRS! ;)

  38. Maureen says:

    The plural of gin is jinni. (And possibly tonicii.)

    We have many good things given to us by God which some humans use for evil or foolishly dangerous purposes. Those who use them wisely should not call them evil and insult God. We all have things which we need to give up — but they are all different; we should not try to force our own needs on others.

    Gin was invented by monks, btw.

  39. I agree with Fowler and the majority that it is “gin and tonics”, rather than the other way around. I also agree with those who favor Bombay Sapphire, although Tanqueray will do in a pinc.

    Nonetheless, I feel that too much emphasis has been made on the “gin” part. I find that a good vodka and tonic works quite well. I also find that most tonics on the market are unacceptable, as they are (at least in the U.S.) brewed with corn syrup rather than sugar (to which I am allergic), and they are also spiked with various preservatives, to which I have an intolerance.

    Rather than cursing the current state of most tonics (including, alas, Schweppes), I have taken the trouble to concoct a recipe for making one’s own tonic water. It may be found here:

    http://pauca_lux_ex_oriente.blogspot.com/2006/09/various-liquid-pursuits.htm

    Additionally, one may find a number of inexpensive and easy recipes for making flavored vodkas, which I find work particularly well with tonics, home made or not. Enjoy!

  40. Sorry, missed my entry by a letter (and not a “pinch”, either. The full entry is

    http://pauca_lux_ex_oriente.blogspot.com/2006/09/various-liquid-pursuits.html

    Again, enjoy.

  41. Dom Christopher says:

    Cathy : On Sunday we will hear Our Lady’s reaction to hearing that the guests at a wedding reception had drunk all the wine. She got her Son to produce some more. Puritanism isn’t Catholic ; abusus non tollat usum.

    The gentlemen over at Frankly Unfriendly Catholics are sound on gin, even though they sound like the sort of Anglo-Catholics Charles Ryder’s cousin Jasper warned him against.

    Fr. Z. :

    Gin and tonics, of course. Fowler locutus est, causa finita est.

  42. Bernard: I do so prefer the non-sweet tonic we get here in Europe.

  43. FranzJosf says:

    brothers-in-law = two nouns with separate roles functioning as one substantive: 1) indenpendent noun; 2) object of a prepostition.

    gin and tonics = two nouns, with a conjuction, functioning as one substantive, a simple compound noun

  44. Guy Power says:

    I voted for gins and tonic basing my answer on the plural of lieutenant colonel. (Most) everybody says “two lieutenant colonels” when the correct plural is “two lieutenants colonel.”

    Hmmmmm….. apparently the anti-spam phrase is case-sensitive …. or was cut off; I’m not Catholic-literate.

  45. Guy Power says:

    Just to turn off the bold. ごめんなさい

    I voted for gins and tonic basing my answer on the plural of lieutenant colonel. (Most) everybody says “two lieutenant colonels” when the correct plural is “two lieutenants colonel.”

    Hmmmmm….. apparently the anti-spam phrase is case-sensitive …. or was cut off; I’m not Catholic-literate.
    (hmmmm…. and that other word is not syntax!

  46. Christine says:

    Dear Father:
    If I ask for gin with tonic, I might ask for 2 gins with tonic. If I ask for
    a gin and tonic, I might ask for 2 gin and tonics. (and with a twist of lime!)

  47. H.M. says:

    After Labor Day and before Memorial Day one does not wear white shoes or order a gin and tonic. The question of the plural, in spite of its importance, is simply out of season!

  48. Plural of lieutenant colonel? To my great surprise Webster’s Seventh does not give it, nor do several online dictionaries. But I should think that in this case “lieutenant” is used as an adjective modifying the noun “colonel”, in which case we get “lieutenant colonels”, just as we get “two red houses”, not “two reds house”. The alternative is for “lieutenant” to be the noun and “colonel” to be the adjective. Won’t work because we are talking about a kind or grade of colonel, not a kind or grade of lieutenant.

    Mr Power, have you been able to find any authority on this? Specifically I wondered if there might be a military regulation on the matter.

  49. terry nelson says:

    “Ordering: 2 vodka/tonics” – I was a bartender while at college.
    In the U.S. – perhaps in Britain, they would say “2 gins and tonic”.
    The gin and the tonic, as the vodka and tonic – become one thing – so the plural would be applied to the cocktail itself, not the alcohol. Don’t ya think.
    I’ll have 6 tonite!

  50. dcs says:

    Plural of lieutenant colonel? To my great surprise Webster’s Seventh does not give it, nor do several online dictionaries. But I should think that in this case “lieutenant” is used as an adjective modifying the noun “colonel”, in which case we get “lieutenant colonels”, just as we get “two red houses”, not “two reds house”. The alternative is for “lieutenant” to be the noun and “colonel” to be the adjective. Won’t work because we are talking about a kind or grade of colonel, not a kind or grade of lieutenant.

    “Lieutenant colonel” is a contraction of “lieutenant to the colonel,” which is why “lieutenants colonel” is apparently correct, despite your very excellent points above.

  51. Guy Power says:

    Mr. Mansfield writes anent “lieutenants colonel:

    Mr Power, have you been able to find any authority on this? Specifically I wondered if there might be a military regulation on the matter.

    Can’t find it, but there is a Dept. of Defense Pamphlet or Army Regulation covering manual of style; I had it drilled into my head at either the Infantry Officers Advanced Course or the Combined Arms and Services Staff School. The plural of sergeant major is sergeants major, and major general is majors general.

    Ergo, the plural of gin and tonic MUST be gins and tonic. :^D

    Fr. Z speaks German: The plural of Hauptmann (captain)is:

    a) Hauptmanner
    b) Hauptmanneren
    c) Hauptleute
    d) Rittmeistern

    The answer is c) Hauptleute. In German mann is man., and leute is people.
    D) is a trick answer because the rank of Rittmeister hasn’t been used since 1945.
    [more trivia to stick under one's biretta]

    Cheers!

  52. Tom S. says:

    To paraphrease the great Barry Fitzgerald in “The Quiet Man”, When I drink Gin, I drink Gin. And when I drink Tonic, I drink Tonic.

  53. Fr Bede Rowe says:

    “I’ll have two gins please… Oh, and pop a dash of tonic in them will you?”

    If it causes problems, then avoid it. Order the gin, and then add, as a kind of after thought, the tonic. “A mixer, gosh well, it had never occured to me, but now that you mention it… We’ll both have tonic with them.”

    That’s the ticket.

  54. Zadok: \”…common consensus. This is not the magisterial approach…\”

    Don\’t worry. I will eventually make a ruling. o{];¬)

  55. FranzJosf says:

    Dom Christopher: Are you the Dom Christopher who just made the journey to Tradition?
    You were recently with Bishop Fellay in Paris?

    If so, I found your words very inspiring. God Bless.

  56. dcs and Mr Power: Thanks to both of you. I have learned something. Guy, I remembered from army days that we had a manual of style and spelling. That accounts for army oddities such as “I inclose such-and-such”. It would almost certainly cover the matter. dcs, I had never thought of unpacking the phrase like you did. Makes sense.

  57. dcs says:

    Dom Christopher writes:
    The gentlemen over at Frankly Unfriendly Catholics are sound on gin, even though they sound like the sort of Anglo-Catholics Charles Ryder’s cousin Jasper warned him against.

    For those wondering about this, it’s a reference to Brideshead Revisited.

  58. http://frwebgate1.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate.cgi?WAISdocID=712579485103+9+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve

    On plural of lieutenant colonel: There does not seem to be an army reg on it. AR 25-xxx is the general area for admin and paperwork but I don’t find any style manual there.

    I did find MISC PUB 25-5 US GPO Style Manual at the above link. For better or worse, it gives “lieutenant colonels”. Their reasoning is that the “significant word” in the compound takes the plural. They don’t say how one determines significance. They assume “colonel” is the significant word. But dcs presents a good reason why “lieutenant” is the significant word.

    So we end up with two ways to pluralize “lieutenant colonel”, both with good reasons backing them up.

    John Wayne was quoted as saying, “If everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”

  59. Dom Christopher says:

    FranzJosf :

    I made the journey to tradition when I was baptised into communion with the bishop of Rome (Paul VI at the time) when I was 18 days old.

    St. Irenaeus was the first of the Fathers to expound the importance of Tradition : he explains it as the handing on of the deposit of the faith from bishop to bishop at their ordination. The legitimacy of tradition is an aspect of the apostolic succession. So it’s important to know where a bishop gets his orders from. But the Roman Church is “most excellent” (he gives a whole list of adjectives that I can’t remember offhand) ; you only need to know the list of bishops of Rome going back to Peter and Paul to realize that. So to be sure of recieving the genuine tradition of the Church, it is necessary to be in communion of faith and sacrament with the bishop of Rome.

    Bishop Fellay would do well to remember that.

    After that rant, I could do with a g & t (or 2 g & t’s), but I have to get up at 5:00 to sing 12 psalms in Latin which you do not need to go into schism to do. (Sorry if I’m being uncharitable, Reverend and esteemed Master of this Blog, but being asked if I “made the journey to tradition” has the same effect on me as being asked if I have “accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour”!)

  60. Dom Christopher says:

    “to be sure of receiving”!

  61. Ephraem says:

    There is no plural. “I think I’ll have a gin and tonic” means at least three.

  62. FranzJosf says:

    Dom Christopher: No offense was intended, and none take from your ‘rant,’ which
    information I enjoyed reading and learning from.

    There is an American Abbot with your same name, from a sort of progressive abbey somewhere
    in New Mexico in full communion with the Holy Father who recently spoke, along side Bishop Fellay, at the Si Si No No Conference in Paris; I though you might be he. Was just curious.

    I’ve always had a special admiration for the Benedictine’s. Several years ago
    I spent many happy hours at the glorious celebration of Vespers at the Abbey in Covington, Lousiana.