That peculiar plural

There’s a quirk in creationist talk that has long been a tell. The say “evidences” instead of “evidence”, despite the fact that “evidence” is already plural. It’s not a big deal — Doug Theobald documented cases where serious scholars also used “evidences” — it’s just an odd affectation, maybe a holdover from theological writings, but it’s useful when you hear it because it’s a quick clue that you’re dealing with someone with an unusual background. Eugenie Scott even claimed “The only people who use ‘evidences’ (plural) are creationists or people who have spent far too much time reading their literature! ‘Evidences’ is a term from Christian apologetics …”, which isn’t quite true, but it’s a fine approximation.

So I was curious when Michael Harriot brought up another unusual plural used by a specific subset of people: “freedoms.

Whenever unshowered Americans are confronted with something they don’t want to do, they immediately begin blabbering about their “freedoms.” It’s like the “race card” for white people. While you and I know that the word “freedom” only makes one appearance in the Constitution, apparently there’s a second Caucasian Constitution that I haven’t seen that clarifies this murky terrain.

As you can see, it doesn’t even have to make sense. More importantly, they will never say exactly which specific freedom they are talking about. They won’t cite a specific law or clause in the Constitution that supports their position. That’s because there isn’t one.

Inserting “freedoms” into a random sentence makes one seem more patriotic, like randomly mentioning “the troops.” Basically, “freedoms” is a conservative dog whistle used to justify police brutality, pro-gun legislation and even blackballing Colin Kaepernick.

Weird. Now I’m suddenly seeing it everywhere, used almost exclusively by conservatives to, in some way, amplify the size of the affront to their privilege, and also to put themselves on a safely vague footing. They can’t say their “freedom” is being taken away, since they aren’t going to jail and don’t even seem to suffer any consequences, but putting that “s” on the end somehow implies a numerous and unspecified set of privileges are being taken from them. It’s a useful rhetorical trick, I guess.

And that’s exactly what creationists want to do, too — wave vaguely at some mysterious set of facts that they don’t have to detail.

I guess they possess great wisdoms and cunnings.


  1. shallit says

    Roosevelt spoke of the “Four Freedoms” in a famous speech in 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

  2. says

    Another common creationist usage: “origins”. Not the origin of this or the origin of that, or the origin of biological diversity, but “origins research”. In that case it sneaks in a presumption that different forms of life had different origins.

  3. leovigild says

    Doubt it’s a Rooseveltian reference, though. My off-hand guess is that complaining about missing ‘rights’ is seen as liberal-speak, so ‘freedoms’ is the conservative alternative.

  4. John Harshman says

    This doesn’t seem as odd as “evidences”. After all, quite aside from FDR, the 1st amendment specifically mentions two freedoms right there: “freedom of speech, or of the press”.

  5. beholder says

    Another non-right-wingnut instance, likely unrelated(?) to the Roosevelt quote above: “The four essential freedoms” which define free software.

  6. snarkrates says

    “They’re taking away or freedumbs,” is just a more modern way of saying, “Being a white man used to mean something in this country.”

  7. numerobis says

    Unusual plurals is also quite common among second-language speakers. English is particularly complicated in this respect. Heck, it’s not even consistent between dialects in English.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Maybe he is referring to the dimensions the freedom (s) extend into.
    I recall what Spock said about Khan: “His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking”.
    Like, the freedom regressives want includes “the freedom to hurt others” dimension.
    Personally, I think their thought patterns indicate fractal-dimension thinking: it is less than one.

  9. dean56 says

    Some would say it depends on whether you view “freedom” as a count or mass noun, although if they want it to be a count noun then there should be an enumeration of the things they’re concerned with.

    I have heard this sort of distinction: Use “freedom” as a synonym for “liberty”, use “freedoms” as a synonym for “rights”.

    I agree the word sounds stupid, and that’s reinforced given the lack of thought, focus, and logic in the stuff spewed by the modern right.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    snarkrates @ 7
    Guy in South Park:”They took our jobs!”
    Kyle: “If all men become gay, there will be no people in the future, and there will be no more immigrants”
    (all men in South Park gather in a big gay pile)

  11. René says

    Merriam-Webster lists evidence both as [count] and [noncount] (“They found many evidences of neglect.”). So its plural is not at all as stupid as treating “sapiens” as a plural noun — I am looking at you, Noah Yuval Harari.

  12. Bruce says

    The best response to any demand for “freedoms” is to agree with them by addressing FDR’s agenda, and solving Freedom From Want by instituting a significant universal basic income. Once every American gets say $1500 per month, no questions asked, then the economy and creativity will boom.
    VICTORY for the freedoms crowd.
    I think.

  13. says

    When you hear the ¨freedoms” crowds, what they want is the 5th, 6th and 7th freedoms;
    from responsabilities, from consequences and freedom to blame it on anybody else.

  14. bortedwards says

    @#6 Drew: I fear their “justices” are already here in Kavanaugh and co… :/

  15. says

    There is a detectable resistance to getting concrete in many people I encounter. They just want to make the political display as assertion about X, without being responsable for showing X concretely. It feel like wrestling. One thing that has worked with some issues is “if you don’t get specific I’ll just start guessing”. Often there are rhetorically useful choices like people beating heads with flags during the insurrection with vague claims about insurrectionist behavior.

    It’s useful that the undefended assertions are usually insulting which makes justifying criticism easier rhetorically.

  16. kome says

    It’s somewhat comparable to how creationists and other science deniers like to speak about science in absolutist terms, to suggest that the familiar language of uncertainty that scientists use in our profession indicates that we don’t actually know what we’re talking about. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that the Venn Diagram of creationists and anti-maskers is either a single circle or one circle completely inside the other circle.

  17. david says

    Perhaps conservatives see a distinction between “freedoms” (e.g., a list of specific rights granted in the constitution), and “freedom” (wide-ranging privilege). For instance, the constitution grants the specific rights to bear arms, to deny wedding cakes to gays, and to have your legislature overturn an election, but it does not grant the freedom to have an abortion, or to avoid being strangled by the knee of a police officer who doesn’t like your skin color. Only those freedoms named in the constitution (as interpreted by Patriots(TM) ) count.

  18. says

    This is where reputation comes in. Not all at once, though getting someone to confront the lack in the moment has an effect. But even the most obstinate can’t stop the effect of “crying wolf” forever. If someone really feels that strongly and they can’t show anything…

  19. gijoel says

    I think this is why so many zombie movies are set in the states. Every other country in the world would quarantine the infected or suspected infected. Americans will be waving their placards demanding their “freedoms” even as the undead are busy gnawing on their bones.

  20. says

    They are saying “freedoms” instead of “privileges” because they don’t want to admit they are privileged. When everyone is privileged privilege disappears and that is a liberal goal. They see their privileged position as freedom and they are losing it. However, they can’t admit they are privileged because of their skin color or socio-economic status since that would make the liberal’s case. Their only recourse is to mischaracterize their “privileges” as “freedoms”.

  21. wzrd1 says

    I’ve encountered both plurals used in specialty contexts, in particular, in mixed domain/discipline settings.
    So, “There were evidences of prehistoric occupation observed within the cave”, the evidences in question isotope date, stratum dated, etc.
    And as Roosevelt’s freedoms, of which the founders of this nation typically utilized when illustrating freedom of religion, assembly, speech, press, etc. While one may assemble for religious purposes, one more frequently assembles for secular purposes, the same being true for speech.
    Note that all are in specialty contexts, which is not what the wingnuts are even vaguely aware of.

    As for datas, well, I do recall a TNG episode, “A fistful of Datas”… ;)

    The wingnuts go off into the weeds with considering rights as a scarcity economy. This goes astray, as the more rights are shared and expanded, the wealthier the preexisting set of rights are and hence, the better protected they are.

  22. says

    You mention dog whistles. The trouble with a dog whistle is that if you can hear it, then you know that whoever blew the dog whistle thinks you’re a dog, and will treat you accordingly.

  23. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    kinda like fishes being plural of fish.
    What’s the plural of geese?

  24. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I suppose it is above their cognitive ability to see that Colin was showing his respect by kneeling during the Anthem to show rwspect for all the innocent people being brutalized by intolerant police officers.

  25. Owlmirror says

    Another common creationist usage: “origins”. Not the origin of this or the origin of that, or the origin of biological diversity, but “origins research”. In that case it sneaks in a presumption that different forms of life had different origins.

    Yeah, but “origins” can refer to more than one thing – there’s the origin of life, but also the origin of the Earth, and the origin of the universe. In secular science, those are all distinct things. In creationism, the origins of the universe and the Earth are simultaneous, and the origin of life is somewhat later.