How the Jewish People Lives Today

How the Jewish People Lives Today

Submitter: This was donated to the library. I am happy to say it was never actually in the collection.  It’s the grammar that drives me crazy on this one.

Holly: It looks like mostly universities have this title now.  The grammar is weird in the title, but it’s the word “today” that gets me!  Clearly, the Jewish people “lives” differently today than in 1940.  Also, this copy looks a little ratty.


  1. Are you sure this book wasn’t written by George W. Bush? “How the Jewish People Lives Today” sounds like one of his contortions of the English language.

  2. So are Jewish People all astronomers, or do the goyas have to peer through a telescope to see them??

  3. That’s not a grammatical error– “people” in the singular indicates a nation. gives two examples of this definition, one singular, one plural: “a people who migrated across the Bering Strait” and “the native peoples of Mexico.” You may have heard the expression “a proud people,” or, referring specifically to the Jews with their dietary laws and jealous God as “a peculiar people” because they aren’t supposed to mix with other peoples. That said, “Today” is not 1940 and any book on how Jews live “now” that doesn’t cover the Holocaust obviously does not belong in a public library.

  4. The grammar is actually perfectly standard English—or at least it was in the 1940s. It’s just a rather old-fashioned usage of “people”. This word has historically done two jobs in English (in fact it’s done more than two, but let’s ignore the others for now). We’re most familiar with it being used as the plural of “person” (alongside “persons”, which tends to only occur in official language). This usage goes back centuries. However, the word has been used at least as long as a singular noun meaning something like “nation”. We’re familiar with this today in sentences like, “The Americans are a proud people”. This singular noun has a plural “peoples” as in “the peoples of the world”.

    The first usage I mentioned has encroached on the second, so now it’s very very uncommon to find “people” both treated as singular and as the subject of the sentence, as is the case in the title of this book. But in 1940, clearly, this usage was still current (though it might already have seemed a little old-fashioned). A nice example of how language changes, even in a couple of generations.

  5. I wonder if that wasn’t intended to be “How the Jew Lives Today,” and someone thought it might be more sensitive to say “Jewish People.”

    I would totally love that book.

  6. Forgive a non-native speaker, but isn’t “people” in the title singular, as in “A land without a people for a people without a land”, or “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth.” Sure, it’s an excessively collectivist turn of phrase, but I do not see how it is ungrammatical.

    I would say “How Jewish people live today” but “How the Jewish people lives today”. Please correct my misconception by explaining the rule.

  7. Boy #1 asks Boy #2 “Kin yuh see anythin’ thru that there telescopy?”
    Boy #2 says “Ayuh! I sees bad grammar thru mah telescopy!”

  8. The author was a Russian immigrant who was ordained as a rabbi in 1940. I’m wondering if part of the title was just the way he thought it should be.
    He seems to have been a prolific writer:

    “His works included the trilogy ‘When the Jewish People Was Young,’ ‘How the Jewish People Grew Up’ and ‘How the Jewish People Lives Today.’ ” — Quote from the LA times obituary, September 23, 1992.

  9. Grammar? What’s wrong with the grammar? As several people have pointed out, ‘people’ is a singular noun meaning something along the lines of ‘nation’. And I hardly find it old-fashioned language at all–is this because I’m Canadian?

  10. The telescope is baffling, as well as why it’s pointed away from the map/globe. If its written by a Rabbi it is probably an interesting historical document and should go to a special collection somewhere.

  11. @misanthropina: I may have spoken too soon by suggesting this was now old-fashioned! It certainly isn’t unusual at all to see it in the plural, or as a complement with an indefinite article. My instinct was that very few people now would use it as a singular subject, as in the title here, but I may be wrong. Of course, nouns that refer to collections of people often go with plural verbs in Standard British English anyway (“the government are debating…”; “my family think you’re lovely!”…), which is a further pressure against it in the UK. But maybe the usage lives on more in Canada than elsewhere…?

  12. Never mind the grammar – what I really want to know is whether Rabbi Soloff tried to sample any German correspondents before this went to press. Otherwise the timing seems as spectacularly ill-advised as the “Pearl Harbor Getaway Guide – Christmas 1941 Edition”.

  13. Apparently, the way they live today is by striking heroic poses or having their eyes gouged out by the narrow end of telescopes.

    Weed from a general circulation library, but I agree that it belongs in a special collection focusing on Jewish history.

  14. Sorry, this standard British English person thinks that the two sentences in brackets should be “the government is debating” and “my family thinks you are lovely” although if I was using the pronoun rather than the singular noun, I would say “we think you are lovely” rather than as quoted by Garicgymro, but then I do a bit of proof reading as well as writing reports and reviewing books….

  15. What? I would read that. I mean… it’s not that anything changed much for the jewish peolpe since 1940…….

  16. 1: There is absolutely nothing wrong with the grammar. That’s actually the proper way to write it. Sorry, all you people from the world of text speak, “likes”, “whatevers”, and “ya knows” – but that’s proper english.

    2: Yeah, weed it and send it to a school that specializes in script writing. Someone writing a pre-WW2 movie would love that.

  17. @Jane: certainly there’s variation between speakers (as in all questions of usage), and you’re welcome to your preference. However, it remains that is well accepted in Standard British English to have either singular or plural agreement depending on the emphasis required. Singular agreement tends to be more common when the entity referred to is perceived as acting as a single body (e.g. “the government legislates”), while plural agreement is more common when the entity referred to is perceived as acting as a collection of individuals (as in “the government are debating”).

    There’s no reason you shouldn’t stick to singular in all cases, but it would be misleading to suggest that plural agreement is unacceptable in Standard British English here, or that it’s a modern innovation. It was endorsed by no less an authority as Fowler in 1908 (he pointed out only that you shouldn’t have both singular and plural agreement in the same sentence, which is sound stylistic advice):

    I’m not a proof reader, but then I do have some years’ experience of teaching English and a PhD in linguistics…

  18. “it remains that is” > “it remains that it is”
    “unacceptable in Standard British English here” > “unacceptable in Standard British English”
    “no less an authority as Fowler” > “no less an authority than Fowler”

    I’m really not much of a proof reader!

  19. Oy, oy, oy – the Jewish People lives gooder today than ever it/they did in 1940, no?

    And talking of grammar, shouldn’t that be goyim, Brian? Goyas being a family of Spanish artists.

    The People have spoken. Oh no, of course it should be: The People HAS spoken. No kvetching!

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