Nuance or NOOB?

I was watching an episodes of The Simpsons the other night where an unsuspecting Marge takes a job at “a high-end cannabis boutique.” (To be precise, it was Season 31, Episode 17, “Highway to Well.”) On figuring out what’s going on, she exclaims: “I’m a drugs dealer!”

Over the years, I’ve written on several occasions on the British tendency to pluralize collective nouns, most recently the similar “drugs party”; that post has links to previous ones discussing such forms as “drinks menu,” “jobs report,” “covers band,” and “books editor,” all of which are on the rise in America. But Marge’s “drugs dealer” was jarring because the alternative, “drug dealer,” is so common here. The New York Times has used that phrase 4,340 times but “drugs dealer” only twice, and one of those was a quote from an English tabloid editor. (I suspect the other one, in 1972, was a typo.)

Truth to tell, “drugs dealer” is relatively rare even in the U.K., as seen in this Google Books Ngram Viewer chart showing the frequency of the two forms in British books:

Screen Shot 2020-06-10 at 2.57.56 PM

But it’s definitely out and about, as in these two random hits from the Google Books database:

Screen Shot 2020-06-10 at 3.07.07 PM

Back to the Simpsons, the episode’s writer was Carolyn Omine, an American. When my wife and I talked about the “drugs dealer” line, I (naturally) claimed it was a Not One-Off-Britishism. But she disagreed, saying that Ormine wrote it in an awkward way to suggest Marge’s discomfort.

What do you think, NOOBs readers?

Update: You lot certainly thought I was wrong. Here’s a pie chart of the responses to the survey (now closed):

When Marge Simpson said drugs dealer, was it a case of

And you lot were right. In a wonderful Marshall McLuhan moment, the writer, Carolyn Omine responded to my tweet about this post: “That was supposed to a mom-like mistake. It was to show Marge is so far removed from the drug world she doesn’t pronounce drug dealer correctly.” (She also commented on this post. See below.)

I stand corrected. And as I replied to her, it’s a very nice piece of writing.


20 thoughts on “Nuance or NOOB?

  1. I agree with Gigi – but maybe more just Marge’s awkward use of weed nomenclature rather than discomfort. Like when parents tell their kids not to smoke “the pot.”

    1. That’s how I understood it. She’s so out of it she doesn’t know the relevant idioms. It’s like how Mr. Burns shows he’s a walking talking anachronism by referring to “iced cream”.

  2. Categorically NOOB.

    Have your wife consider this: if you were to be apprehended with illegal narcotics, you would catch a…that’s right, a narcotics charge, even in the States.

    If one is a professor of mathematics, one is a maths instructor; if one trades in drugs, one is a drugs dealer.

    1. I don’t buy your analogies, because no one would refer to one narcotic or one mathematic. In cases where there both the plural and singular are used, the number of the attributive noun varies, with the plural more commonly used in U.K. and singular more common in U.S. In both places, one would go to a book (not books) or shoe store. Here we have a cookie jar; I imagine you have a biscuit tin.

  3. Drinks menu, drinks party – yes. Drugs dealer, drugs party – never heard or read that. But, yes, a drugs haul, if a large quantity of drugs is apprehended by the drugs squad (police division).

    1. That said, doing a Google news search just now, ‘drugs dealer’ looks a fairly common expression, so perhaps I just haven’t been paying attention to nuances.

  4. If it’s a British reference, then it’s probably to Chris Morris’ amazing TV show “Brass Eye” of which Episode 2 is “Drugs”. Morris makes consistent jokes using awkward references to drugs such as “I don’t use the horse”.

    “People say that alcohol’s a drug. It’s not a drug, it’s a drink!”

  5. The UK habit of pluralising collective nouns is jarring to my Australian ears; but then poms are a weird lot 😉

      1. No because you would not (or would rarely) refer to “an electronic.” But we would say a shoe store (which sells shoes) or a cookie or even a biscuit jar.

  6. I’ve never heard anyone use the phrase ‘books editor’, for the record, nor ‘covers band’. But yes, ‘jobs report’ and ‘drinks party’ are frequently used as far as my experience goes..

  7. Looking at it in reverse, the American plural use that always sounds wrong to me is ‘anyways’ in place of the the BrE ‘anyway’.

    1. Drinks is definitely the main one, presumably because the intention is not to stop at one. “Would anyone like a drink? or “Drinks, anyone?”

      1. I’ve never heard anyone have a ‘drinks party’ in Australia, partly because that’s a tautology. Now, if it’s a specific type – say cocktail party – that’s OK. Note it’s not a ‘cocktails party’, although even I have more than one (and I rarely drink).

      2. It doesn’t have to be called a drinks party to be a drinks party. A formal invitation received by mail (a thick white card, sometimes with hand engraved copperplate printing, and often referred to as a stiffy) could be an invitation to “Drinks” at say 7 o’clock, which in other words is a drinks party. Or if it is dinner, may indicate that the evening kicks off with ‘Drinks”. Or a Drinks invitation could be spoken and informal, “Come round for drinks in the garden”. I think use of the plural indicates an expectation of drinking more than one, rather than the selection of drinks on offer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s