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A colleague asked: what is the plural of "beef Wellington"? (In response to a few comments, I recognise that I am unlikely to be misunderstood in a restaurant no matter how I order multiple of the dish, and that it might even risk worse understanding to seek correctness; but I am also likely to be laughed at for referring in conversation to Jerome Adams and Sylvia Trent-Adams as "our two previous surgeons general", and yet that is how I should properly describe them.)

According to Wiktionary, the plural of "beef Wellington" is "beef Wellingtons". However, according to Wikipedia, the 'Wellington' in "beef Wellington" is a postpositive noun adjunct. Wikipedia further instructs me that, in such constructions, the pluralizing morpheme should be formed by appending it to "the noun" (presumably, in the case of a postpositive noun adjunct, the modified rather than modifying noun). (@EdwinAshworth observes that there is an exception (when isn't there in English?), namely, "This rule does not necessarily apply to phrases with postpositives that have been rigidly fixed into names and titles." To the extent that this can be said to be true of beef Wellington, it seems to me that the same can be said of crêpe Suzette, which I discuss in the next paragraph.)

I tried to test this rule on the examples given of postpositive noun adjuncts, but the only one that is not already, in Wikipedia's phrase, "intrinsically … plural" as quoted and whose plural I know is "crêpe Suzette". This indisputably has plural "crêpes Suzette", but I don't know whether it is legitimate to speak of a singular "crêpe Suzette". The link text on the postpositive adjective article uses the singular, but the title of the article to which it links does not. My question applies similarly to the other instances quoted: what, for example, are the plurals of "man Friday", "broccoli raab", "chicken Tetrazzini", and "peach Melba"?

So I wonder whether it should be "beefs Wellington", or, as my colleague mused, perhaps even "beeves Wellington". (We have discussed 'beeves' elsewhere, but that question does not seem to address this issue, except for observing, for example in comments, that not all senses of 'beef' pluralise as 'beeves'.)

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This answer has two parts. First, I'll outline why beef Wellington may be a preferred usage over beefs or beeves Wellington; second, I'll outline why beef Wellingtons sometimes shows up and may be alright too.

Why beef Wellington and not Bee[f/ves] Wellington

Beef itself is frequently treated as a mass noun (Grammar Monster) or uncountable noun, which don't have a common plural form (Wiktionary). If beef Wellington is regarded as a compound noun where beef is the main term and Wellington is a postpositive noun adjunct, then it would make sense for beef Wellington to follow the same pattern as beef:

I love eating beef. (Compare: I love eating beef Wellington.)

I will eat some beef. (Compare: I will eat some beef Wellington.)

(x) I will eat some beefs / beeves. (Countable noun uses would be plural: I will eat some oranges / steaks / cows.)

Using some offers a test for usage where one would expect the noun phrase to denote multiple items, so I use it to suss out plural/mass noun usage. In this case, "some beeves Wellington" and "some beefs Wellington" give zero results in a Google search, compared to a loosely estimated 133,000 results for "some beef Wellington." So while there are some specialized situations where beef may adopt a plural (ABC Radio), beef Wellington follows the usual pattern for the uncountable beef.


Why also beef Wellingtons?

A search for "some beef Wellingtons" on Google yields a smaller search estimate of about 2,020 results. So there are some people who use this form as a plural.

They do so because they treat beef Wellington as either (a) a compound noun where no one word has greater importance or (b) as a proper noun phrase. In both cases, if one uses a separate plural form and doesn't treat it like a mass noun, the [-s] would go at the end of the phrase. Here are a couple of analogues among foods:

I love eating Quarter Pounders. (A Quarter Pounder is a proper noun phrase for a type of burger sold at an American fast food chain.)

I will eat some ice cream sundaes. (An ice cream sundae is a compound noun.)

Here are a few examples of this kind of plural in action with beef Wellington:

Many less than perfect [beef] Wellingtons - undercooked, overcooked, falling apart - have been sent back. Practice makes a perfect [beef] Wellington ... (The Hell's Kitchen Cookbook, 2015).

Got back into the kitchen today and prepped some Beef Wellingtons. (Tweet by Daniel Tijerina).

Individual Beef Wellingtons [...] Arrange [beef] Wellingtons on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake to golden. (recipe by Rachael Ray)

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  • This is a great answer. (I was wondering if all the activity would be confined to the comments!) I will wait a bit to see if there are any other perspectives, but, absent that, will accept this one. Thank you!
    – LSpice
    Feb 24 '21 at 21:14
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    The fact is that hereabouts, patterning analysis is not infallible. The different behaviours of crêpe/s Suzette and Beef Wellington/s, structurally apparently identical, is evidence. The borrowing process taking place at times when individual servings were less or more common probably explains the difference here (crêpe/s Suzette probably being imported when the plural was immediately required, so imported as is). Feb 25 '21 at 18:01

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