At 2:35 of this video, Sheldon Cooper says

For the record I have genitals. They are ...

How can a person have more than one genital? Is it alright to use whatever grammatical number in casual speech?

As a Japanese who doesn't have the concept of grammatical number, I find it fascinating that a native English speaker can confuse the number and count his genital as not one.

Are there other reasons behind that?

  • 9
    Well, genitals refers mostly to external reproductive organs. I don't know about you, but as a man, I have three: two testes and a penis. Hence "genitals." Now, you might have trouble arguing that for a woman, but it still stands, as it can refer to internal reproductive organs as well. Note also that "genitalia" is plural as well. – Phoenix Sep 27 '11 at 17:09
  • 1
    @Phoenix I'd have no trouble arguing that women have genitals: the labia and clitoris are clearly part of the genitalia. – ghoppe Sep 28 '11 at 0:06

In English, certain nouns are usually only found in the plural form. They tend to be items which are found in/represent a pair, set, collection, etc. For example:

  • Scissors
  • Pants
  • Tweezers
  • News

Genitals falls into this category as it represents, as phoog pointed out, the reproductive organs collectively. Referring to my genital, or saying I have a genital would be very unusual.

  • Yes. Also, the singular form is usually only used in descriptive or specific terms. Right genital, genital warts, pant leg, tweezer prong, scissor blade, etc. Don't think there's anything like that that works for 'news' though. – Phoenix Sep 27 '11 at 17:00
  • @Phoenix: How about "new development" or "new story"? News is, after all, just the plural of new. – Caleb Sep 27 '11 at 18:06
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    @Caleb: "News is, after all, just the plural of new." Ok, there is some speculation about this as the origin of the term (in something like the 15th century), but I certainly wouldn't think of "news" as the plural of "new", and I doubt most modern English speakers would. – BradC Sep 27 '11 at 22:04

It’s because it’s a translation of the Latin plural ‘genitalia’.


I too find it a bit odd, but I think the history behind it is that "genitals" actually refers to the several reproductive organs collectively.

protected by RegDwigнt Sep 27 '11 at 18:45

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