The great thinker and journalist Tom Scocca is well known in these offices as the archenemy of the false plural. As its name suggests, the false plural occurs when someone claims that there are multiple examples of a given phenomenon, when in fact there’s only one. The issue came up when David Letterman hosted prez hopeful John McCain last night on the Late Show.
Letterman wanted McCain’s response to the famous sound bite of his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has charged that prez hopeful Barack Obama is guilty of “palling around with terrorists.”
Now, first Letterman pushed McCain on the dubiousness of this charge, as would any good interviewer. But then he went all Scocca on the candidate, stating, in effect, OK, let’s just say for the sake of argument that you’re right about the candidate’s relationship with Bill Ayers. Where are the other terrorists in Obama’s life? Letterman was calling out the Republican ticket on a false plural.
McCain couldn’t handle it, essentially punting the question and moving the talk along.
Politicians, journalists, CEOs, kids, parents—they all deploy the false plural when it fits their polemical needs. And they all need a Scocca around to edit it out of them.