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Garner's fourth reads

Miscellaneous must be followed by a plural count noun; it does not work with an abstract mass noun. Exceptions are set phrases such as miscellaneous shower/income.

and

An abstract noun refers to something that has no physical existence; sometimes the meaning of an abstract noun changes from singular to plural <kindness–kindnesses>. Some mass nouns can also be count nouns on occasion <choose only the best meats>.

According to Wiktionary it comes from the Latin nominative masculine singular of miscellāneus.

  1. With a sing. n.: Consisting of members or elements of different kinds; of mixed composition or character. With a pl. n.: Of various kinds.

https://www.oed.com/oed2/00147738

What is Garner's statement based on then?

Secondly, regarding the definition of abstract noun, I don't understand what the pair kindness(es) is referring to.

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  • Kindness is the quality of being kind (uncountable), but a kindness is one particular act of kindness. Oct 5 '21 at 10:57
  • 1
    Surely Garner looked/s at actual usage rather than ancestry (which if leading to different results would be an obvious falling foul of the etymological fallacy)? This is not a question suitable for ELU, the etymological fallacy having been addressed here many times. // Even with the 'kindness = act of kindness' broadening, '28 kindnesses' etc would be very rare. This, I believe, would be a suitable question in its own right. Oct 5 '21 at 11:04
  • 2
    You can't use Latin grammar to judge how words are used today; lots of words with Latin roots are not used the same way in English as they are in Latin (e.g. agenda or ignoramus). Garner's statement is hopefully based on examining how miscellaneous is actually used in English language texts and speech (although sometimes authors of usage guides make this kind of rule up).
    – Stuart F
    Oct 5 '21 at 12:04
  • What @EdwinAshworth said. If Garner's pronouncements were "based on" using Latin vocabulary & grammar to define current English usage, we probably wouldn't be interested in what he has to say anyway. What matters is what people actually say, not what they would have said if they'd stuck closer to Latin. Oct 5 '21 at 13:04
  • "Miscellaneous must be followed by a plural count noun" - The word miscellaneous doesn't have to be followed by a noun at all, though I suppose in that context they're talking about cases where it is.
    – nnnnnn
    Oct 6 '21 at 3:52
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Because Garner is writing about English, the use of the Latin source word is irrelevant. I’m not sure whether Garner is correct, or what the basis of his statement is (the entry does not tell us), but determining the accuracy of the statement requires research into actual English usage.

The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that Garner's statement has not been true throughout the history of the word; its first definition for miscellaneous is as follows:

With a singular noun: consisting of members or elements of different kinds; of mixed composition or character. With a plural noun: of various kinds.

In fact, most of the OED citations are with singular nouns, including the latest one (from 1986):

A. Massie Colette ii. 31 Willy..embarked on the muddy waters of literary journalism and miscellaneous hackwork.

Perhaps the 35 years since this book's publication have seen a change in the use of miscellaneous; perhaps Garner has overlooked some cases, or perhaps he is trying to push usage of the word in a certain direction based on his own preferences.

I think "must be followed by a plural count noun" goes a bit too far. To me, expressions like “miscellaneous furniture”, “miscellaneous cutlery”, “miscellaneous jewelry” sound all right.


“Kindnesses” in the plural usually refers to kind actions, while “kindness” in the singular usually refers to a quality or state. As Edwin Ashworth commented, that topic deserves a separate question post.

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  • Furniture, cutlery and jewelry are not abstract.
    – GJC
    Oct 5 '21 at 17:27
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    "Exceptions are set phrases such as miscellaneous shower/income" gives Garner a big loophole to accommodate counterexamples— like "miscellaneous information." Still, his observation (in the third edition version of his entry for "miscellaneous") that "Though one might refer to miscellaneous languages (and thereby include Chinese, English, French, Thai, and Vietnamese), it makes no sense to write miscellaneous contract language" seems accurate; we would be far more likely to use a plural noun, such as "miscellaneous contract terms [or provisions]," in that case.
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 5 '21 at 17:56
  • @GJC: the phrasing of Garner’s rule suggests a false dichotomy between plural count nouns and abstract mass nouns. Regardless, the first clause says that no noncount nouns can be used with “miscellaneous” (outside of “set phrases”), so it would exclude the examples I gave in this post.
    – herisson
    Oct 5 '21 at 19:01
  • @SvenYargs I find "miscellaneous contract language" perfectly natural and easy to understand. Even if you don't, I doubt you would find "miscellaneous jargon" strange, yet I see no principled distinction between those.
    – Casey
    Oct 6 '21 at 2:08

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