Tuesday, January 19, 2010


In Standard English (StdE), youth as a countable noun — that is, singular a youth or plural some youths — refers disapprovingly to young males, usually teenagers, engaged in antisocial or criminal behaviour.  It is therefore often found in collocations such as a gang of youths.  (This is different from the collective-noun sense of the word, e.g. the youth of Singapore, meaning ‘young people in Singapore taken considered as a group’.)

In Singapore English (SgE), however, youth as a countable noun refers to nothing more than ‘young people’, both female and male.  As the extracts above show (Straits Times, both 11 January 2010), the word has no negative connotations: in fact the photographs show young people, female as well as male, doing good deeds.

A linguistic purist might put the SgE usage down to sheer ignorance, but a descriptive linguist would probably argue that it is simply a feature of SgE which sets it apart from other varieties.


Whitegloves said...

Okay okay. we know. in fact, you've mentioned it like almost.... 10000 times in my 1.5years in NIE. :P

Ee Hui

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Oh, that's harsh ... I mentioned it only 723 times! But seriously, I wonder what it'd take for the Straits Times to get it right.

GM said...

It is interesting to note that only learner's dictionaries expressly state the negative connotation of "youths".

Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 5th Edition, 2006
N-COUNT Journalists often refer to young men as youths, especially when they are reporting that the young men have caused trouble.
gangs of youths who broke windows and looted shops

N-PLURAL usu with poss The youth are young people considered as a group.
He represents the opinions of the youth of today.

Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 2009
[C] disapproving a boy or a young man
Gangs of youths were throwing stones and bottles at the police.

[ U + singular or plural verb ] young people, both male and female, considered as a group
the youth of today, the nation's disaffected youth

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 5th Edition, 2009
[countable] a teenage boy - used especially in newspapers to show disapproval
gang of youths

[uncountable]young people in general
the youth of something, The youth of today are the pensioners of tomorrow.

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 7th Edition
[C] (often disapproving) a young man
The fight was started by a gang of youths

(also the youth) [pl.] young people considered as a group:
the nation’s youth , the youth of today

Macmillan English Dictionary Online, 2010
[countable] a male teenager, especially one involved in violent or criminal activities
a gang of youths

a.[uncountable] young people in general
Sport provides a way for the nation’s youth to express themselves.

The Chambers Dictionary on CDROM, 2003
a young person, esp a young man (pl youths ); young persons collectively

Collins English Dictionary, 8th Edition, 2006
a young person, esp a young man or boy

young people collectively, youth everywhere is rising in revolt

Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition ,2004
[treated as sing. or pl.] young people, a young man.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1989.
A young person; esp. a young man between boyhood and mature age; sometimes, esp. in earlier use, more widely (see quots.).
Formerly sometimes (and still in dialect or vulgar speech) pleonastically qualified by young.

1774 tr. Chesterfield's Lett. Kal. May 1741, To-morrow..you will attain your ninth year; so that, for the future, I shall treat you as a youth. 1805 Ann. Reg., Chron. 396/2 Two youths, one 14 and the other 8 years of age, sons of a poor man. 1837 DICKENS Pickw. xxxii, The pot-boy, the muffin youth, and the baked-potato man. 1881 19th Cent. May 780 Before she was twenty she wrote verses like other youths.

Young people (or creatures) collectively; the young. (With or without the; now always construed as plural.)

1874 STUBBS Const. Hist. I. ii. 25 When there was peace at home, the youth sought opportunities of distinguishing..themselves in distant warfare. 1883 Century Mag. XXVI. 292/1 There was a native innocence in the New York youth of both sexes that was pleasing to our pride.

Anonymous said...

So, the six young people who beat the crap out of me are "youth." (BTW, one was a rather large young lady.) That's stilted, man. I'm not finding the distinction noted by American English usage mavens. It seems Colonial.

Stu, USA

The Grammar Terrorist said...

"Youths" -- thanks Stu, that's interesting.

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The Grammar Terrorist said...

Thank you, Anon!