Memo From the Grammar Police to California Department of Justice Lawyers

On January 7, 2013 the Brown administration filed a document with a panel of three federal judges asking them to release the state from it’s obligation to lower the population at the Golden State’s 33 prisons to 110,000 inmates – 137.5 percent of design capacity.

(There’s a little under 120,000 inmates at the moment, which is down 43,000 from the peak of overcrowding several years ago.)

This important document and its submission to the panel of judges was the subject of a press conference by the Democratic governor. Excerpts from it appeared in numerous media outlets.

Among the most popular quotes is the third sentence in the first paragraph of the introduction to the “Memorandum of Points and Authorities” found on Page One of the state’s filing.

The sentence reads:

“In the years since the court issued the current population cap order, the state has dramatically reduced the prison population, significantly increased capacity through construction and implemented a myriad of improvements that transformed the medical and mental health care system.” (Emphasis added.)

Myriad is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, it is defined as “a very great or indefinitely great number of persons or things; innumerable.”

As an adjective, “countless or extremely great in number.”

To illustrate this verbal duality, consider Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “myriad myriads of lives.”

Use of myriad as a noun was more common in the past. “Myriad” the Noun predates “Myriad” the Adjective, several sources say.

Today, the word is more commonly used – or at least intended by its users —  as an adjective.

In this instance, if the Department of Justice lawyers are harkening back to their love of the works of John Milton and Henry Thoreau, two “Myriad” the Noun devotees, then all is copacetic.

If, however, the writers are following common practice, as the sentence structure suggests, neither the “a” before nor the “of” after is needed.

“Myriad improvements” suffices.

As former state Sen. Quentin Kopp, a San Francisco independent, is fond of saying:

” You’re advised accordingly.”

Adds Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy:

“Secretly you wanted to know.”



Filed under: State Agencies, Venting


  1. I’m sure it’s a hopeless cause, but thanks for this correction.

    Comment by JoAnn Anglin — 1.08.2013 @ 9:20 pm

  2. Punctuation Police: Did you really mean to write, “…from it’s [sic] obligation…”?

    Comment by rick — 1.08.2013 @ 9:38 pm

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