A Regrettable Shortcut: Faculty Referring to Individuals

By Eric Wirth

Faculty is one of a category of nouns that includes audience, clergy, family, military, police, and staff. These words refer to groups of people as a body:

The faculty supported the proposal.

Writers addressing specialized readerships, however, are tempted by a shorthand in which such terms refer to individuals in the group:

Several faculty objected to the proposal.

The ad hoc nature of this shorthand brands it as jargon. Writers who have grown used to “several faculty” are likely to avoid “A faculty objected to the proposal” and “Several audience demanded refunds.” Yet all three are formed on the same principle.

Writing well is a matter of perceiving language as a whole, perceiving the patterns of thought that structure the system. To write “several faculty” and then, inconsistently, “several members of the audience” is to let convenience erode the unity that makes language a precise instrument.

Published 29 February 2016

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