[Beowulf] "Code" vs. "Codes"

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Mon Mar 31 17:12:04 PDT 2008

On Mon, 31 Mar 2008, Jon Forrest wrote:

> I appreciate everyone's comments so far, but please
> keep in mind that I only meant to comment on the
> use of "codes" (plural). The use of "code" in place
> of "program" feels normal.

I think Jim had the right of it.  If a program can be referred to as a
code, then some programs can be referred to as some codes.  I think I
understand what you're objecting to -- "code" is somewhat like "deer" --
either singular or plural so it can feel odd to refer to "codes".  But
it isn't EXACTLY like deer.

Try it on with an adjective:

   "I gave my student the group's hydrodynamics codes."


   "I gave my student the group's hydrodynamic code."

These two sentences have slightly different meaning.  By the former it
is clearly meant that I handed the student not (the source for) one
program but for a suite of programs for doing hydrodynamics
computations.  Perhaps a simulation code, a direct numerical solution
code, a code for analyzing results of hydrodynamics experiments, perhaps
even auxiliary codes for display and visualization.  Each of these is a
distinct package of (source) code (the plural/collective form for a
single program's worth of lines of code).

The latter COULD mean that, but it would be a slightly odd usage.  To me
it means that I've given the student a big package of code (that might
well have lots of subroutines and modules and lines of code and so on)
that ultimately builds a single program.

So I doubt that it is non-native speakers of English -- just people
forming the natural plural of (source) code for a (single) program, into
the (source) codes for (multiple) programs.

> I still suspect that somewhere this started with
> a non-native speaker of English. The same thing
> has happened recently with "e-mail", which didn't
> used to exist in common usage in plural form.
> Now you see "e-mails" used by all kinds of people.

And I think that it's the same kind of thing.  "e-mail" is number
indeterminate, and it is "expensive" to indicate number with a full
quantifier.  I got e-mail could be one or ten messages, sort of like the
deer in my front yard (how many are there?).  I could speak of a bunch
of deer, a herd of deer, lots of deer, or a single deer to clarify, but
English being a marvelously flexible language, I could also
half-kidding-use the deliberate malconstruction "the deers in my front
yard" (or "mooses in the forest" or "e-mails in my mailbox") to save a
quantifier and still unambiguously indicate that I mean the plural vs
singular form (or catch it with a verb form elsewhere, but this won't
work when the deer are the sentence's object or off in a clause).
Plenty of native speakers of English might do this.  Some of them might
even be pretty literate and doing it deliberately in jocular or informal
conversation (but not in an English paper if they know what's good for

It isn't that uncommon for these plurals to make it into "real English".
Pardon me, I've got to go put away the leftover fishes from my table.
Otherwise the deers from the yard might sneak in to get them and make a
mess of my floor. ;-)


> Cordially,

Robert G. Brown                            Phone(cell): 1-919-280-8443
Duke University Physics Dept, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Web: http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb
Book of Lilith Website: http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/Lilith/Lilith.php
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