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As far as I know, the five actors to have played the role of Batman in films are Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale. Is it grammatical to call them "the batmen"?

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batmen with a small B is a perfectly normal word, but unfortunately has nothing to to with Bruce Wayne (in a military context, it refers to soldier-servants). So if you do wish to use the word, you need to retain the capital letter. –  TimLymington Sep 11 '12 at 21:53
    
@Tim batmen aren't the multiple older batboys at a baseball game? –  Mitch Sep 11 '12 at 22:35
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If it is grammatical, you'd really want to capitalize it: " B atmen ". –  Mitch Sep 11 '12 at 22:38
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I like the Spanish convention for referring to members of a family: the plural masculine article, followed by the (unpluralized) family name. So: los Batman. –  MT_Head Sep 24 at 18:02
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Two Batmens? youtube.com/watch?v=PETk8eBbfN0 –  Ronan Sep 26 at 8:53

10 Answers 10

up vote 21 down vote accepted

I would say that strictly speaking it is not. Irregular plurals carry if they are instances of the base word. A "fireman" is a type of man, so "firemen" is the appropriate plural, but the "Toronto Maple Leafs" are not leaves.

Since Batman is a proper noun, Batman does not designate a type of man but the name for one particular man, so the irregular plural does not carry. It should be "the Batmans". However, this is, at least to my ear, somewhat awkward.

So you have three choices. If you want to be strictly correct and not be awkward, "the actors who portrayed Batman". If you don't mind being a bit awkward, "the Batmans". If you can tolerate a few points off on your poetic license, and can see Batman as not so much a proper noun but as a type of man, then why not ... "the Batmen".

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I don't think the Batmans is awkward. People didn't have any problem referring to Sony Walkmans. –  alcas Sep 11 '12 at 21:16
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@alcas: True, that's not awkward at all. (Though Sony didn't like it, insisting one should say "Walkman personal entertainment devices".) I toned down my description of the Batmans as awkward. –  David Schwartz Sep 11 '12 at 21:24
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But the plural "pop flies" is used. –  JLG Sep 11 '12 at 21:44
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hm... I think all that indicates is that, since pop flys and pop flies would be pronounced the same, people are more likely to use the regular spelling. It's not a very illustrative example for that reason. Things like Sony Walkmans or the Toronto Maple Leafs (not Walkmen or Maple Leaves) better illustrate the point. IIRC, these are so-called "headless compounds": man is not the head of the compound Walkman (i.e. a Walkman is not a type of man) so Walkman follows regular pluralization rules, not the irregular one followed by man. –  alcas Sep 11 '12 at 21:51
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@alcas: Thanks. Answer improved. –  David Schwartz Sep 11 '12 at 22:43

You could write the batmen, and if you’re writing an attention-getting headline, maybe you should. But it is definitely unusual enough to call attention to itself, and you typically don’t want to distract the reader from what you’re trying to say.

Batmans sounds obviously wrong to me, unless you’re going for laughs. Cf. librarymans.

For what it’s worth, there is an actual episode of an actual Batman-themed TV show titled “Night of the Batmen!”. Apparently the Batmen of All Nations are a thing too.

Maybe it’s just me but it seems like real sentences using batmen tend to be a bit informal in tone:

The result was 3 pages of Batmen in their off-hours, when they’re just kicking back and taking a break from being the Batmen we all know and love.

while those using batmans are extremely informal in tone:

I freely admit I love ALL THE BATMANS.

i think the batmans weapons cannot even harm iron man as he withstands powerful missiles.so ironman wins the game.

All “decent” actors when giving the approriate character… but not in this type of movie…. maybe in the batmans of the 90’s…

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We would, of course, have both supermen and Supermans. –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 11 '12 at 22:52
    
@Edwin: Let's not forget about Wonder Womans. –  J.R. Sep 11 '12 at 23:22
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Well, your second-to-last example is just somebody forgetting to put an apostrophe in the possessive. –  alcas Sep 12 '12 at 6:07
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The first ‘Batmans’ example is a case of the Internet meme all the [plural], which always uses a regular (or even doubled regular) plural, even if ungrammatical. “I want all the moneys”, “I had all the feels”, “I love all the womanses”. An irregular plural just does not occur in this construction. The second is a missing apostrophe, as alcas says. The third, to me, uses a regular plural because it is a plural of the movies, not the characters. There have been different Romeos and Juliets in the Romeo and Juliets of the 20th century, and different Batmen in the Batmans of the 90s. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 15 at 13:29

No. Batman is a single character. Multiple actors have played the character, but there's only one Batman.

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In this case I read "Batmans" in the sense of "Batman portrayals" given the OP's examples. As in opera we could write about great Figaros. –  MετάEd Sep 12 '12 at 0:09
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+1 for pointing out what should be obvious. There is one fictional character called Batman, so 'Batmen' is not even logical, never mind grammatical. The OP list five Batman actors, not five 'batmen'. –  Roaring Fish Sep 12 '12 at 0:48

Yes, it is grammatical.
Batman, UK noun, plural Batmen. The personal servant of an officer especially in the British Armed Forces

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+1 - excellent answer! –  medica Feb 15 at 13:04

Batman is the name of a character. Philip Seymor Hoffman played Truman Capote in the movie Capote. In referring to this character, if there were remake, the various portrayals would not be Trumen.

It is conceivable that the various players collectively could be referred to as the Trumans, but that feels very artificial. Each of the actors would have played Truman and collectively they played Truman or the Truman roles.

While it is arguable that there have been many Othellos, I think it is much better form to indicate that many have been Othello, that is, when referring to character names, the plural should be avoided. (Perhaps the only exception is a mulitplicity of Elvises and only when they appear in multiples at the same time, such as in Honeymoon in Vegas.)

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Truman isn’t really a good parallel, since it is not an obvious compound. Historically, the last part is ‘man’, but synchronically, Truman is just a name, and it is pronounced /ˈtruːm(ə)n/, not /ˈtruːˌmæn/. Batman, on the other hand, is a synchronic compound: it is very much ‘the Bat Man’, and unlike the regular noun ‘batman’, the name is always pronounced /ˈbætˌmæn/, never /ˈbætm(ə)n/. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 15 at 13:23
    
@JanusBahsJacquet I think you are probably right that Truman is a bad analogy. My view remains since there is no species of batmen but only a series, taken one at a time, of Batman. –  bib Feb 15 at 16:04

Actually, the number of actors who have portrayed Batman is seven not five. Lewis G Wilson; Robert Lowrey; Adam West; Michael Keaton; Val Kilmer; George Clooney and Christian Bale.

Note the author of the article (and also the OP) wrote Batman and nothing similar to "There have been seven Batmen in the TV series and movie history." The noun batmen is of course grammatical, but why shouldn't it be? The plural of man is men, and as @Jrfras mentioned in their post, batmen are the personal servants assigned to a commissioned officer in the British Armed Forces. Therefore the following sentences would be perfectly correct

Yesterday police arrested a batman.
and
Yesterday police arrested several batmen.

However, the nouns Batman and Caped Crusader are both proper nouns and it is the norm in English to capitalize proper nouns. Some proper nouns can be pluralized when we mention them as a unique group for example; the Simpsons, the Bushes, the Marches, the Himalayas; the United States; the Yankees; the Green Bay Packers etc.

But the role of Batman is one, the superhero in every film, comic strip, TV series is one, there has never been seven "Batmen" simultaneously. The seven actors are never referred to as "the Batmen" or, ex-Batmen. If two or more were called Batmen the term would be ambiguous, the speaker/writer might be stating that the actors were once private soldiers who were servants to high ranking officers.

Wikipedia mentions in its article Batman (military)

J. R. R. Tolkien took the relationship of his characters Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins from his observations while in military service during World War I of the relationship between a batman and his officer

Popular ITV drama Downton Abbey featured a valet named Bates who served Lord Grantham as a batman in the Boer War.

In the BBC sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth, set during World War I, actor Tony Robinson portrays Private S. Baldrick, the bumbling and incompetent batman to Captain Edmund Blackadder.

Google Books Ngrams seem to suggest that the plural forms "are/were batmen" and "are/were Batmen" are non-existent in American English whereas the expressions "was/is batman" enjoyed its peak of usage between 1916 and 1920, and the proper noun "was/is Batman" has had the upper hand since the 1960s.

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The only group of superheroes I can think of whose name terminates with men is...

X-men

Within the Marvel Universe, the X-Men are widely regarded to have been named after Professor Xavier himself. Xavier however claims that the name "X-Men" was never chosen to be a self-tribute. [...] The original explanation for the name, as provided by Xavier, is that mutants "possess an extra power... one which ordinary humans do not!! That is why I call my students... X-Men, for EX-tra power!".

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The Watchmen are definitely superheroes and the members of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen arguably are as well. Coincidentally, both were written by Alan Moore. –  Joel Anair Sep 26 at 14:29

Strictly speaking, there have not been multiple "Batmen," but rather "multiple portrayals of Batman." Not only is it not grammatical to say "the batmen," it is factually incorrect to refer to the actors as such. Certainly, it's an appealing construction - after all, it sort of rolls off the tongue. However, that's not the nature of acting.

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A name, proper noun, or a character. But Batmen sounds right .

Two examples from a UK based newspaper :

The gathering of 542 Batmen (and women) kicked off a campaign for a United Way charity.

In this short film released to commemorate Batman’s 75th birthday, old man Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis fight against the Dark Knight’s past incarnations – Batmen from comics, cartoons and live action. Happy Birthday, Bats!

What about Bats......

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Batmen is grammatically correct, and the contextual meaning will probably be understood by the reader.

Whether or not you would use the word is more about style and preference. You could avoid the word by writing "the actors who've played Batman" or you could be lighthearted and use "Bat-Thespians" for example to go with naming convention of Batman's tools.

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On August 2, 2014, the New York Times published an article titled "Spider-Man Unmasked! Elmo and Minnie, Too" about people who dress up as cartoon characters in order to pose for pictures and receive tips from tourists in Times Square—and this very question came up, not in the context of multiple instances of Batman but of multiple instances of Spider-Man. Here is how the New York Times handled the issue:

The performers have come under even greater pressure since a recent violent confrontation between a man dressed as Spider-Man and a police officer. The man was arrested after fighting with the officer, who had responded to the man’s aggressive solicitation, the authorities said.

The episode was the latest in a recent series of unpleasant encounters that have cast a cloud over the street performers. Two other Spider-Men were arrested in separate episodes in June, one charged with groping a woman and the other charged with assaulting a woman (he was found not guilty but was fined for harassment).

A caption in the same story mentions "the Times Square hurly-burly of Elmos, Minnie Mouses and Batmen who pose for photographs and then coax customers for tips." On the other hand, the same story also cites "an enclave of Mickey Mouses and Sheriff Woodys" (Sheriff Woody being the name of a character from the Toy Story movies)—but if you take Spider-Man/Spider-Men and Batman/ Batmen, instead of Spider-Man/Spider-Mans and Batman/Batmans, I would have expected the Sheriff Woody pairing to be Sheriff Woody/Sheriff Woodies, not Sheriff Woody/Sheriff Woodys.

Its hard to avoid the conclusion that the New York Times's treatment of Spider-Men (on the one hand) and its treatment of Sheriff Woodys (on the other) represent inconsistent ways of handling the same problem of rendering a singular proper (but fictional) name as a plural.

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From the first paragraph it's clear the article is not about the superhero Spiderman or the actors in the franchise, but about "ordinary" people who dressed as Spiderman, Elmo, Minnie Mouse (not mice?:-)), Sheriff Woody etc. –  Mari-Lou A Sep 27 at 6:36

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