Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Staff Infection

The use of staff as an article-free plural noun -- in place of "the staff" or "staff members" -- is, at least in American English, a hallmark of bureaucratese. It's an established and understandable usage, and so some would tell us to put down the red pencil and slowly back away from the text, perhaps even kneel and build a shrine to yet another example of the language's flexibility, but our job is to avoid jargon. We're not bureaucrats; we don't get as many days off.

NO: The senator instructed committee staff to research the issue.
YES: The senator instructed the committee staff to research the issue.

NO: The report said some hospital staff were untrained.
YES: The report said some hospital staff members were untrained.

(I would even accept staffers, though that word makes some of my fellow tsk-tskers wince.)

6 comments:

Grant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grant said...

Thanks for bringing this to light, Bill. As long as we're on the subject, could you address the question of whether or not "staff" is considered to be a singular or plural noun? I'm forever seeing "staff are invited to attend" and usually recommend changing it to "the staff is invited..." or "staff members are invited..."

Stephen said...

While we're on this subject, Bill, I run an entertainment magazine and come across band names and the word "band" a lot.

I see publications that say "The band are playing tonight." Or "Big Blue Marble are a band from New Orleans."

I've always sworn by treating singular nouns as singular nouns, including treating band names as singular groups, treating it the same as the word staff. It's either "the band is" or "the band members are." Your thoughts?

Urban Forager said...

You are so right! Reading e-mailed announcements at the liberal-arts college where I work, I often find comparable offenses with "faculty." When I read the phrase "four faculty," my reaction was heard several offices away.

manythoughts said...

Is 'committee' spelt with a triple 'm' in American English?

Bill said...

Ha! Thannnnks.