This is a (rare) timely post for the blog, and I wish it weren’t keyed to a somber occurrence, the Taliban’s taking control of Afghanistan. But it is, and that turn of events has been accompanied by headlines such as this.
Note the verb” “control” rather than “controls.” Wes Davis wondered if this was an example of American adoption of the British style of
singular plural verb for collective noun, such as “Parliament have adjourned” or “Chelsea are expected to win today.” [Note: As commenters have pointed out, I was apparently wrong in saying that “Parliament” frequently, or maybe ever, takes a plural verb. A better example would be “the government are,” which I wrote about here. That post also contains links to previous discussions of this issue.]
The answer to Wes’s question is, in a word, no. Or mostly no. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary describes “Taliban” as a plural noun and explains: “Pashto & Persian ṭālibān, plural of ṭālib student, seeker, from Arabic.”
Recognizing this, the Associated Press and National Public Radio treat the word as plural. I don’t have access to the New York Times style guide but judging by this headline and other examples, that paper appears to follow suit.
Google Books Ngram Viewer, working from a broad database of printed sources, shows that in America, the plural and singular were roughly equal until about the year 2000, when the plural form began to gain some separation.
Now, is that increased popularity a result of the NOOBs phenomenon? It’s impossible at this point to say, but it’s nice to think so.