Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bigfoot Grammar



As you probably know, I'm a professional educator. Part of that job is to make sure that my flock of students is communicating effectively and correctly in English. While I don't hold advanced degrees in grammar, I do consider myself somewhat of a "word-nerd," and enjoy understanding and playing with our fascinating English language.

There are two interesting grammatical questions in regards to writing about our giant, hairy, bipedal friends in the woods. The first is about the capitalization of the word, "Bigfoot."

"Bigfoot" was inducted into the American vocabulary in the fall of 1958. Betty Allen, one of the earliest American investigators into the subject, wrote in September of 1958 about some recent happenings in Humboldt County, CA in regards to bigfoot. The next month would be when Jerry Crew would be pictured on the cover of the Humboldt Times-Standard holding a cast of a 17 inch footprint with the words, "New 'Sasquatch' found- it's called Bigfoot." This article was picked up by the AP newswire and made headlines throughout the country.



The creature that left the footprint that Jerry Crew is holding also left footprints on several other occasions. This is possibly the same individual whose fooprints were cast near Hyampom, CA in April of 1963, as well as in Laird Meadow in October of 1963. This same individual is also written about extensively in John Green's excellent books chronicling his early work in Bluff Creek.

When speaking about this individual bigfoot, it would be appropriate to capitalize the word "Bigfoot." Proper nouns should always be capitalized. There are other individual sasquatches that have been given names over the years, such as Wrinkle Foot, Patty, and Cripple Foot, and their names should also always be capitalized.

Capitalizing the word bigfoot does a disservice to the species. It suggests that there is only one individual animal and "he" is seen all over the country. I find this to be one of the most prevalent misconceptions about the subject, and am often asked if I have ever seen "him." Perpetuating this misconception keeps the subject matter in the realm of kookiness rather than physical anthropology.

The second grammatical question in regards to my hobby has to do with the plural form of bigfoot and sasquatch. I have chosen to purposefully use "bigfoots" and "sasquatches" as the plural forms in my writing. ("Bigfeet" implies a plural of the foot, not the creature, and frankly sounds a bit silly. I use the word "watch/watches" as the justification for the plural "sasquatch/sasquatches." )

I am aware of using the singular form of animals as the plural, such as in the sentence, "Black bear range widely throughout North America." It might be appropriate to say the plural form of bigfoot or sasquatch in the same way, and indeed is commonly used in various books and blogs on the subject. I do not do this because of the issue of perpetuating the misconception noted above. I'd rather be slightly out of grammatical conformity than be partially responsible for people thinking there is only one of these creatures. I guess it's something like grammatical civil disobedience.

It has been written that if somebody uses the plural "sasquatches," they probably don't know what they are talking about. I respectfully disagree. Then again, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.



5 comments:

  1. How about "sasquatch"? Is it capitalized? Word processors and dictionaries seem to prefer it that way.

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  2. The teacher is coming out!!! Once a teacher, always a teacher!

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  3. is bigfoot, yowie, orang pendak and others capitalized?

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  4. It should be "bigfeet" and you are wrong about bigfeet referring to feet and not the creature. It's all in the context of the sentence, as is much in the English language. A bigfoot is a creature and bigfeet are more than one creature. A Blackfoot Indian or tribe is singular. Blackfeet is plural. You don't think bigfoots sounds "funny"? It does. So does bigfeet. Both sound funny, but one is correct and what children should be taught.

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  5. The plural form of Bigfoot is, and always will be, Bigfoot.

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