So, “the peacock’s mission is clear: to create as many baby __ as possible.”

Dictionary.com is frustratingly vague on this — it says:

pea·fowl [pee-foul]
noun, plural pea·fowls (especially collectively) pea·fowl.

So, apparently it could be either peafowls or peafowl. Any idea which one sounds better or is more respectable?

  • You could let the people decide. (Though I wouldn't have linked to the Ngram if it hadn't supported my preference.) – Edwin Ashworth Mar 31 '14 at 15:33
  • @EdwinAshworth but it's not really a fair fight since (as Ronan mentioned) you have to account for all the instances of singular peafowl. – Digital Chris Mar 31 '14 at 15:46
  • Halve the 'peafowl' ordinates for a better guestimate. Or use these Ngrams. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 31 '14 at 15:50
  • You could sidestep the issue by saying "the peacock's mission is clear: to create as many peachicks as possible". (Not that the need is great; it sounds fine and is perfectly clear to say "baby peafowl" here.) – John Y Mar 31 '14 at 15:55
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    Or just use 'babies'. If the fellow manages to produce puppies or chickens, more power to him. – Oldcat Mar 31 '14 at 18:50

Both are correct, and an Ngram search shows up a common usage of each, but from my experience, I have head 'fowl' more commonly when referring to many fowl. A similar example would be 'fish'/'fishes'. 'Fish' is the more common plural, so should be used where possible.

(Note on Ngram: Many of these results for 'peafowl' may be referring to singular peafowl, but who has just one?)

  • 4
    "...but who has just one?" Peafowls: the Lay's Potato Chip of ornithology. (Note: this tongue-in-cheek comment contains an example where I believe using the s-less version would be more awkward/unclear, although I agree that usual use case should be peafowl.) – Digital Chris Mar 31 '14 at 15:44

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