web analytics

Memoirs (plurale tantum)

The traditional designation of an autobiographical account as a literary genre has always gone by the name memoirs, in the plural, not the singular. Recently, however, writers and readers have begun referring to it exclusively in the singular, viz. memoir. This change can in part be accounted for by the fact that of all contemporary literary genres memoirs was the only one whose designation occurred in the plural only, the singular being reserved for other kinds of written account such as a memorandum, notice, special study, monograph, or history. The change, therefore, can be seen as a lexical normalization.

A possibly covert other reason for the change is the simple fact that speakers and writers––particularly of American English––are ignorant of the original meaning of the word, namely ‘remembrances’ or ‘memories’. The (French) form that took root in English to mean the genre obscures its origin and its attendant meaning, hence facilitating the new recurrence to the singular and the oblivion of the traditional plural.


Leave a Comment

192 feed subscribers
Readers with non-commercial queries and a personal e-mail address can click here:

Michael Shapiro: Sound and Meaning in Shakespeare's Sonnets
ePub $2.49 | Mobi $2.49

Michael Shapiro: The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage

For free email notification of new blog posts, please enter your address in the field below, and then click Subscribe.

Michael Shapiro's Upcoming Appearances