July 29, 2007


The Hubble Space Telescope's
view of Deep Field South

Unveils Myriad Galaxies

myriad adj. [mir'ee-id]

1. Constituting a very large, indefinite number; innumerable: the myriad fish in the ocean.

2. Composed of numerous diverse elements or facets: the myriad life of the metropolis. myriad noun

1. A vast number: the myriads of bees in the hive. 2. Archaic. Ten thousand.

[Greek murias, muriad-, ten thousand, from murios, countless.]— the American Heritage Dictionary
Throughout most of its history in English myriad was used as a noun, as in a myriad of men.

In the 19th century it began to be used as an adjective, as in myriad men; this usage became so well entrenched that many people came to consider it as the only correct possibility. [emphasis added]

In fact, both uses have not only ample precedent in English but also etymological justification from Greek, inasmuch as the Greek word murias from which myriad derives could be used as either a noun or an adjective.

Both uses may be considered equally acceptable
, as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's “Myriad myriads of lives." [emphasis added]

This poetic, adjectival use became so well entrenched generally that many people came to consider it as the only correct use. In fact, both uses in English are parallel with those of the original ancient Greek. The Greek word mrias, from which myriad derives, could be used as either a noun or an adjective, but the noun mrias was used in general prose and in mathematics while the adjective mrias was used only in poetry.”
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: 4th. Ed. 2000.

MYRIAD IN CURRENT USE — as an adjective:
I know people don’t proofread their myriad daily e-mail messages, and I have certainly been chagrined to discover, say, that I fired off “bike” when I meant “back.” JAIMIE ESPTEIN July 8, 2007 The New York Times Magazine, On Language. "Sentence Sensibility."

Katherine Whiteside, the author of ''The Way We Garden Now,'' tested six pairs of gloves while building a raised-bed potager. She cautioned that ''no one pair of gloves is going to do the myriad of different tasks there are to do in the garden.''By Susan Guerrero, The New York Times. PHYSICAL CULTURE | "Gear Test With Katherine Whiteside, Garden Writer; "As the Gloves Go, So Goes the Garden" . Published June 4, 2007.

makes no reference
at all to the word's "poetic" overtones or lingering 19th Century preferences. He chooses, instead, to deal with the
controversy of "myriad of things" versus "myriad things" as nothing more than a question of wordage, i.e., the number of words involved. He prefers parsimony which was expressed well in The Elements of Style by Strunk and White: "Let each word tell."
To make your phrase more concise, use myriad as an adjective <a myriad drugs> than as a noun <a myriad of drugs>. Here the better use is illustrated:
  • "June 1996: Telectronics resumes production after wrangling over myriad legal and manufacturing issues."[1]
  • "Back when we still thought America was a melting pot instead of a collection of hyphens, the crux of combining myriad nationalities into one was in that oath."[2]
In short, prefer "myriad issues" over "a myriad of issues."
Prefer "myriad nationalites" over "a myriad of nationalities."

[1] Al Lewis, "Pacemaker Firm Pulls Plug," Rocky Mountain News, 14 Dec. 1996, at 1B.
[2] Pat Truly, "The choice All Immigrants Must Make," Baltimore Sun, 14 Jan. 1997, at 9A.
Page 441 in Oxford Dictionary of American Usage.

Thus, Garner would have Katherine Whiteside's words revised as follows: "Katherine Whiteside, the author of ''The Way We Garden Now,'' tested six pairs of gloves while building a raised-bed potager. She cautioned that ''no one pair of gloves is going to do the myriad of different tasks [read myriad different tasks] there are to do in the garden.''

The usage issues surrounding myriad can be addressed simply by asking and thoughtfully answering this question:

. If in a student paper a college English Composition teacher reads

"the extravaganza engendered a myriad of memories,"

should the teacher underline (with the usual red ink) the words a myriad of memories and in the nearest margin write "Usage: Change to myriad memories."?

nswer #1

Brian A. Garner, Bloggin' John, & other careful writers say

Yes. Change "myriad of memories" to the more concise "myriad memories."
Answer. #2

From easy-going, permissive types, such as the editors at Merriam-Webster's who include no Usage Note at all about myriad in neither their Third Edition of the Merriam-Webster's International Unabridged Dictionary nor The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (1989).
"Say, ah [answers our non-prescriptivist respondent], I haven't thought much about this, but either way sounds O.K. to me. I think I've heard the "of" tucked in there hundreds of times — maybe not a "myriad of times" (Ha, ha. A joke. Get it? "myriad of times" ?) — but often enough to say I'll go with the majority [read crowd —B.J.] and say,
mm'No. "A myriad of memories" is just fine. So — hah! — is "a myriad of times".'"

————————————————————————————————— Coleridge's tribute to Shakespeare:

John Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919), we read the famous bon mot coined by the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in praise of the Renaissance Master:
QUOTATION: Our myriad-minded Shakespeare.
: 5281
: Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)
ATTRIBUTION: Biographia Literaria Chapter xv. Note 1.
IN THE PLURAL, from the Columbia Guide to Standard American Usage:
myriads (plural n.) Hyperbolic but Standard

As a noun, myriad means “ten thousand,” but its most frequent sense is “any very large, indefinite number of persons or things,” as in We could see a myriad of stars or We could see myriads of them.

The plural is hyperbolic but Standard
: "myriads of issues"
[example and emphasis added—B.J.].

The Standard adjective myriad simply means “innumerable”: There were myriad stars in the sky.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English.
Copyright © 1993, Columbia University Press.
Arrayed here,
the most common options:

*Myriad possibilities .... Standard. Concise.
B]*A myriad possibilities .... . Standard. Concise.
nA myriad of possibilities .... .Standard. "of."
nMyriads of possibilities .... Standard. Hyperbolic. "of."
nA myriad myriad possibilities . .... Poetic. Hyperbolic.
nMyriad myriads of possibilities .... .Poetic. Hyperbolic. "of."
nMyriad upon myriad possibilities ... . Poetic. Hyperbolic.

* Preferred forms in school English.—B.J.




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