December 07, 2004

What Nation?

The Brian Murphy column noted below raises a question about the proper morphology* of Football Team Nations. Murphy begins by saying

Looks like we might have to hold off on the founding of "Eagles Nation." And, for that matter, "Patriots Nation"

but ends

In sum: Yes to Raider Nation and Steeler Nation. No to 49er Nation (uni change) and Ram Nation.

Well, should "nation" be preceded by the singular or the plural?

Data and a hypothesis below.

Google overwhelmingly says singular in most cases:

'Raider nation': 19,400 hits/'Raiders nation': 523

'Steeler nation': 33,600/'Steelers nation': 408

'Yankee nation': 6160/'Yankees Nation': 104 ('Yankee Nation' includes some false positives)

An exception would seem to be 'Rams Nation: 5940/'Ram Nation': 4620 (many for Colorado State)

Ambiguous: 'Patriot Nation': 4690/'Patriots Nation': 2050 ('Patriot Nation' contains many false positives, but not as many as I'd expect)

Thrown out for tiny sample size: '49ers nation':7/'49er nation': 1

Thrown out for way too many false positives: 'Eagle Nation' (none of the top 10 hits have to do with Philly football)

It seems to me as though English often calls for singular nouns in adjectival uses: If you sell cars, you're a car salesperson, not a cars salesperson. On the other hand, here the idea is that you root for the Steelers, not for individual Steelers, so that might provide a reason to use the plural. Still, the singular seems to be in the ascendancy on this extremely limited sample.

Looking at origins won't tell us much, because probably the original of all Sports Team Nations is Red Sox Nation with 164,000 hits. And 'Red Sox' is a morphological mystery, to me anyway. Is it singular? Plural? A mass noun? Who knows? Anyone?

Clarification on the "Singular/Plural Nation" phenomenon would also be welcome and I think only fair.

*At least, I think it's morphology. I'm not sure.

Posted by Matt Weiner at December 7, 2004 02:17 PM

You can get rid of most of those false positives, without losing too many true positives, if you add the name of the city to your search. For instance, 'Rams Nation' AND 'St Louis' gets 4480 hits, edging out 'Ram Nation' AND 'St Louis', which gets 3780. Adding in 'Philly OR Philadelphia' makes 'Eagle Nation' and 'Eagles Nation' come out pretty even, with 115 for the sigular and 128 for the plural (and few false positives). (I used a similar trick, adding 'tennis' to my searches to eliminate all the hits for broken Minis when I searched for verb uses of the tennis term 'mini-break'.)

Posted by: Blar at December 8, 2004 11:13 PM

That's a nice trick. One caveat: applying it to Steeler Nation reduces the hit count fourfold, even though the sites that don't contain "Pittsburgh" or "Burgh" aren't false positives. (This entry is currently #5 on that search, but will probably move to the other one as soon as I post this comment.)

Which goes to prove Brian Murphy's original point--it really is Steeler Nation, not just Steeler city.

And of course this Google stuff is all highly unscientific. If you search for Stiller Nation you get "about 656 results"--but only 8 show up! So we're dealing with lots and lots of duplicates.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at December 9, 2004 07:41 AM