Array we go

For some time, a tattered scrap of paper amid the stacks on my desk has been reminding me to investigate three words, their relationship to one another and the proper use of articles and prepositions around them.

There’s no time like the present, even though I have a myriad of other things to do. Or was that a panoply? Or a plethora?

If you bristled at “a myriad of,” hoping for a Gotcha, simmer down.

I too believed myriad was an adjective modifying a noun, not a noun requiring an “a” before and an “of” after. That’s what I was taught anyway. Weren’t you? Myriad things to do, not a myriad of

Well I looked it up, and numerous (myriad, perhaps) experts agree with Miriam-Webster that myriad is both an adjective and a noun:

“Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective. As the entries here show, however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it.” (Personally, I’d be inclined to come out of the 16th century and stick with the adjective.)

So, in my second sentence of this post, did I use myriad correctly? Probably not. Literally and traditionally, myriad means ten thousand. Yes, I do have myriad things to do but not 10,000. It is also said: to mean a great number, innumerable or a large number of unspecified size.

Next question: is a myriad the same as a panoply? Quite often we hear the two used interchangeably. A panoply can mean a great many things, including military attire or a flashy cover. But it is also a splendid or magnificent array, as a panoply of colorful flags. I don’t know what’s on your desk, but the piles on mine are hardly splendid.

By the way, sources say panoply isn’t preceded by an article such as “a” or “the.”

If panoply is an array, then “panoply of” would be followed by a plural, no? I ask the question because the lyrics of “June Hymn,” a beautiful song by The Decemberists, mentions “a panoply of song” – which makes me wonder if song really means songs, in the same way people lately talk about sport, which used to be sports.

Finally – plethora, also commonly misused. A plethora is too many, an overabundance. Just be sure you know what it means — in case someone asks. For a little context, watch the first minute and a quarter of this clip, from one of my favorite bad movies:

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