The plural of Miss Subways

In the current (10/27/14) New Yorker, an entertaining “Where Are They Now Dept.” feature by Michael Schulman, “Underground Beauties”, beginning:

Long before Dr. Zizmor and Poetry in Motion, beauty on the subways came in the form of the Miss Subways competition, which ran from 1941 to 1976. The idea, hatched by the New York Subways Advertising Company, was to prettify the train cars while drawing eye traffic to the surrounding ads for chewing gum or cigarettes. Every few months, a new glamour shot would appear on posters underground, along with a few lines describing the winner’s hobbies (“modern dance, piano and ceramics”) and aspirations (“plugging for B.A. but would settle for M.R.S.”). Nearly two hundred women claimed the title.

Over the years, nearly two hundred women served as Miss Subways. So there were nearly two hundred Miss Subwayses? No that can’t be right: Subways is already plural. The obvious solution is a zero plural, with only one realization of plural inflection: nearly two hundred Miss Subways. And that’s the solution in the New Yorker piece.

First, some background. For readers not familiar with the NYC subway scene, two explanations:

Jonathan Zizmor (born 1945) is an American dermatologist in New York City famous for his television commercials and prolific, colorful subway ads promising that “Now you can have beautiful clear skin!” (Wikipedia link)

Launched in 1992 by the Poetry Society of America and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority [of NYC], Poetry in Motion® is today one of the most popular public literary programs in American history. Poetry in Motion® places poetry in the transit systems of cities throughout the country, helping to create a national readership for both emerging and established poets. (from the Poetry Society of America site)

Now: why is the New Yorker writing about Miss Subways? From Schulman’s piece:

If Miss Subways is remembered today, it is primarily because of the 1944 musical “On the Town,” [made into a movie in 1949] whose heroine is Miss Turnstiles; she is pursued by a trio of sailors who have just learned that the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down. A Broadway revival of the show was the occasion, the other day, for a gathering of some twenty-five former Miss Subways winners, at Ellen’s Stardust Diner.

(The Ellen in question is a former Miss Subways herself.)

Finally, the morphological question. From Schulman’s piece, about the gathering of twenty-five former Miss Subways winners:

The Miss Subways wore sashes and posed with their posters while sitting in vinyl booths.

Go with the zero plural (of Subways) rather than a double plural (of Subway). (Of course, this could all have been avoided if a contest winner had been called Miss Subway in the first place.)

4 Responses to “The plural of Miss Subways”

  1. Karen Schaffer Says:

    I’m amusing myself with the thought of “The Misses Subways” a la Jane Austen.

  2. Tom Says:

    The link “feature by” to the original has a stray space at the end, resulting in an excellent error message on the NYT site, almost as amusing as the actual article.

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