A plurality of scales

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I'm interested in language and fascinated by the fact that many, perhaps most, people on this board use scales as a plural noun, when it is obviously a singular object. Note that I'm not criticizing anyone for using the wrong word. I'm not a prescriptivist and don't believe that language that is commonly used by literate people can be wrong. I'm just wondering what is the derivation of and reason for the usage. While waiting for responses, I'll decide which pair of pants to wear.

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  • CurlyCockney
    CurlyCockney Posts: 1,394 Member
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    I thought it was short for "pair of scales", as held by Lady Justice on top of the Old Bailey.
  • Machka9
    Machka9 Posts: 24,932 Member
    edited September 2015
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    Possibly because scales, in the old days, had two parts ... the weight part and the goods part. You put your goods (products, or whatever) into the ones side, and then put little weights on the other until it balanced.

    So perhaps the fact that there were two sides pluralised the word.

    Tea%20Scales%20A%20[small].jpg
  • sheldonklein
    sheldonklein Posts: 854 Member
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    A pan scale certainly has two pans-otherwise is one hand clapping-but I still view the scale as singular. However, you are correct that i would refer to "scales of justice"
  • WBB55
    WBB55 Posts: 4,131 Member
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    I weigh my food on a digital scale. I guess I hadn't noticed people did it differently. Attention to detail fail I guess.
  • yarwell
    yarwell Posts: 10,477 Member
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    Old Norse ? "scale
    (for weighing) from skal (="bowl, drinking cup", or in plural "weighing scale" referring to the cup or pan part of a balance) in early English used to mean "cup"[124]"

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=scale
  • Machka9
    Machka9 Posts: 24,932 Member
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    A pan scale certainly has two pans-otherwise is one hand clapping-but I still view the scale as singular.

    But wasn't that type of scale called a 'pair of scales'?