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What re the plural forms for 'man Friday' anf 'person Friday'? I've come across the variants 'men Friday' / 'man Fridays' / 'men Fridays' on the Internet. Which one is grammatically correct? Or are all of them acceptable? No answer found for plural 'person Friday'.

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    There is no 'rule'. Man Friday was a fictional character in a novel, 'Robinson Crusoe', and the name is not a natural language development. There was only one, and that's the whole point. Make your own choice. Oct 14, 2023 at 10:12
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    Since the proper noun Man Friday (from Defoe's novel) has become a common noun in English defined as 'a male assistant to an administrator or executive; right-hand man', and there can be several of them, we have to follow some pattern. I know if compound nouns consist of two noun stems, the second stem takes the plural ending (e.g. ball game - ball games) with some exceptions in which both stems are pluralized ('woman doctor' - women doctors')
    – Natalia
    Oct 14, 2023 at 11:27
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    Google Ngrams shows very little currency for 'Person Friday', understandably. If the term 'Man Friday' is politically incorrect, you can use something else, like 'personal assistant', or just a 'Friday' as happened with Chairman -> Chair. Oct 14, 2023 at 11:45
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    I don't have a good answer for this, but I think that a helpful parallel to this literary phrase that has made its way into common-ish language would be if we wanted to talk about all of the kings of England who were named Henry. (Man Friday = Manservant named Friday, after all.) I would argue that it should be Kings Henry rather than King Henrys (or King Henries? Ug.) Oct 14, 2023 at 12:51
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    The only dictionary I've found to indicate a plural form is wiktionary, and then it says "plural man Fridays or men Friday". Closely related question on ELU.
    – None
    Oct 14, 2023 at 13:14

3 Answers 3

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You need to understand what "man Friday" originally meant

"man" =

OED:

II.7.a.

A male personal attendant; a manservant, a valet.

c1175 Wiþþ himm wass an oþerr mann Hiss mann forr himm to þeowwtenn. Ormulum (Burchfield transcript) l. 5199

1990 I realised that the man behind him was his man, his personal servant. F. Kanga, Trying to Grow xvi. 158

Thus [my/the, etc.] man Friday = [my/the, etc.] personal attendant, who is called "Friday".

If the personal servant were called "John", then we would have "my man, John."

If you had two personal servants, then you would have "my servants, the Johns", and thus "My man, Friday" -> "My men, the Fridays"

However, "man Friday" has evolved to be compound noun describing a category:

OED

man Friday (n.) Someone regarded as having the characteristics of Defoe's man Friday; a servant, an attendant; a personal assistant who does all kinds of work; a companion.

a1809 The steward..puts great confidence in his Man Friday. R. M. Wilson, Journal (modernized text) in H. G. Thursfield, Five Naval Journals (1951) 247

1995 Consider a personal digital assistant..which is being cast as nothing less than every infoworker's electronic Man Friday. Home Office Computing June 85/1

As such it is pluralised in the same way as walking stick and dog kennel -> man Fridays.

Greybeard WRF 13/10/23:

A: You've got a lot of work to do there! You need a man Friday.

B: I need several man Fridays!

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    Surgeons general? I don't think that the walking stick or dog kennel comparisons hold up here. In both of those the noun comes second and the other word is an adjective. Here there are two nouns and the one that is being pluralized is first. Oct 14, 2023 at 12:47
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    I don't read this as a question about what the plural ought to be prescriptively based on logic and comparison, but what it descriptively is. What is it?
    – gotube
    Oct 14, 2023 at 17:28
  • @JasonPatterson Surgeons general? I considered that option but deleted it as examination showed that it was not relevant. "man Friday" is in fact a simple compound noun (see OED and substitute "helper") rather that a rank with a post-positional attributive noun.
    – user81561
    Oct 14, 2023 at 19:28
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We would say "the world needs more Mother Theresas" not more "Mothers Theresa". Ergo, Man Fridays. QED.

P.S. "executive assistant" would attract more applicants.

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I'd prefer "Men Friday" but this is likely never used seriously.

The meaning of "Man Friday", as derived by analogy with the character in the book, is a single person who acts as a personal assistant. By its nature, a person cannot have more than one! It is informal and not a job role, but it is defined entirely in the relation of one person to another. Unlike "personal assistant" it would not be possible for two "men Friday" to meet, since they can't both be "man Friday" in relation to the same person at the same time.

So if you are considering using a plural from think again! You are almost certainly going to say something that sounds unnatural.

Instead, use a term like "personal assistant" that avoids all the baggage of "man Friday".

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  • Hi! I upvoted you to counterbalance the downvote! Your good answer does not deserve a downvote! Every time I upvote you I don't leave a comment. I left a comment because I disagree with the downvoter! Oct 17, 2023 at 7:01

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