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Poll Results

Poll 502: Reference material: Experience point.
Which of the following sentences are correct?
(A) This is going to be worth so many XP.
(B) This is going to be worth so many XPs.
(C) This is going to be worth so much XP.
(D) This is going to be worth so much XPs.

Total votes: 5209

C only: 1679 (32.2%)
B and C: 1106 (21.2%)
B only: 616 (11.8%)
A and C: 517 (9.9%)
Who cares?: 430 (8.3%)
A only: 254 (4.9%)
A and B: 218 (4.2%)
A, B, and C: 119 (2.3%)  
All four: 106 (2.0%)
B and D: 56 (1.1%)
C and D: 49 (0.9%)
D only: 32 (0.6%)
B, C, and D: 17 (0.3%)
A and D: 9 (0.2%)
A, C, and D: 1 (0.0%)
A, B, and D: 0 (0.0%) 

There's a long, complicated story behind this one. It refers to a recent strip of Darths & Droids: #408.

Darths & Droids is, as many of you know, written by myself and a collection of my friends. Everyone contributes, and we have lively discussions about plotting, characterisations, and the exact dialogue that goes into the strips. This particular one caused, well I won't say it was outright argument, but it was extremely heated discussion.

I was on the keyboard and, after our usual group brainstorming and discussion, typed out the last line of the strip as, "This is going to be worth so many XP." The others agreed that it was a good script, except some of them said that the last line was wrong.

I said, "What's wrong with it?"

They said, "It should be: This is going to be worth so much XP."

I said, "What? No, that's gramatically incorrect. It has to be so many XP."

They said, "No no no, you're wrong!"

I said, "You fascist Nazi bastards!"

At least that's the gist of it. After an entire lunch hour of this, with both sides absolutely refusing to back down, I agreed reluctantly that the strip could be made with the line, "This is going to be worth so much XP." And when the strip went to air on 2 May, that's what it said.

Except that when I saw it live on the website, my inner grammar Nazi recoiled in utter horror that such a travesty was visible on a website that I maintained. I apologetically e-mailed my friends at work and said I couldn't stand it, and was going to change the sentence back to the grammatically correct, "This is going to be worth so many XP."

Naturally this triggered an e-mail explosion between all parties concerned, which no doubt cost our work the equivalent of 20+ person-hours of skilled employee time. People were pulling out Google hits, dictionary definitions, grammar references, and official roleplaying game writer's style guides. The weird thing was that the latter - specifically the official Dungeons & Dragons Writer's Guide published by Wizards of the Coast - states quite clearly that XP stands for experience point or experience points. Nothing else. And "XP" is the plural form too - you do not add an "s" to make it stand for "experience points".

I saw this as completely vindicating my position. After all, you would say, "This is going to be worth so many experience points." You would not say, "This is going to be worth so much experience points." That would just be grammatically wrong.

Yet, oddly, and still to my total incomprehension, some of the other guys saw this as total vindication for their position that, "This is going to be worth so many XP," was just wrong and, "This is going to be worth so much XP," was obviously right.

At this stage I despaired of us reaching an agreement and rather bluntly pulled rank. It was on my website, and therefore I decided what version would be used. Less than 24 hours after the strip in question was posted publicly, I retroactively changed the line from, "This is going to be worth so much XP," to "This is going to be worth so many XP."

Our usual lunchtime meeting was somewhat subdued. We discussed other things, and not one of us was willing to raise the topic of this line of dialogue. After lunch, the e-mails resumed, somewhat more civilly, and someone suggested we should make it the subject of an IWC poll. So this poll question was born.

We never explicitly discussed it, but I think the general feeling was that my trump card of owning the website had won the day, and nobody was willing to raise the question again.

Until today. One of us is actually out of the country on his honeymoon, and found himself with 10 minutes in an Internet cafe. He reopened the discussion... and since then another several thousand words of e-mail have been exchanged between several of us, arguing the opposite positions once again.

This time the angle is slightly different. The objection (as I understand it) from my worthy opponents is that if "XP" stands for "experience points" then the construction, "This is going to be worth so many XP," sounds a bit like, "this is worth so many dollars," or, "it's so many metres away," or, "wow, it's a lot of degrees Celsius today". The point here being that these sentences all use a countable noun referred to with a non-specific number. The argument (as I understand it) is that these sentences are better expressed as, "this is worth so much money," or, "it's such a long distance away," or "wow, the temperature is really hot today."

The distinction here is that the non-specific number of countable noun objects ("dollars", "metres", "degrees Celcius") has been replaced by an intrinsically non-countable mass noun, ("money", "distance", "temperature"). To my worthy opponents, these latter forms of these sentences are in some sense better than the former versions. I have to say that while I agree in the temperature case, I don't really see anything wrong with the first versions of the other two examples, but apparently my friends do.

Anyway, bringing this back to "experience points", which is a countable form of a noun, the question is what is the uncountable mass noun version? The answer is "experience". So now we have these two different versions of what is essentially the same concept:

  • This is going to be worth so many experience points.
  • This is going to be worth so much experience.
Now I, personally, think both these sentences are perfectly fine. I'm happy to put my name on either one. Our problem comes from the the following facts:
  • I am of the firm belief that "XP" stands for "experience points". In written usage it does not, under any circumstances, ever, stand for "experience". As a game writer, who follows the appropriate style guides, I feel that using "XP" to stand for "experience" would be simply wrong. This means that, to me:
    • This is going to be worth so many XP. (correct)
    • This is going to be worth so much XP. (obviously and irretrievably wrong)
  • My friends believe that constructing a sentence with a non-specific number of a countable noun is weird, and that it's better to formulate such a sentence using the non-countable mass noun version. Also, they are happy to use "XP" in a more colloquial context in which it can mean "experience", rather than "experience points". This means that, to them:
    • This is going to be worth so many XP. (incorrect, or at least very odd or strange usage)
    • This is going to be worth so much XP. (correct)
Alas, we still have not resolved our differences. It seems the only way to do that would be to remove the abbreviation "XP" altogether, and make the line of dialogue read, "This is going to be worth so much experience." But even that has problems, as it loses the flavour of the roeplaying gamer jargon with the abbreviation.

On a lighter note, this is the first IWC poll since poll #189 where one of the offered options got no votes whatsoever. That was also a language usage poll...

My comics: Irregular Webcomic! | Darths & Droids | Eavesdropper | Planet of Hats | The Dinosaur Whiteboard | mezzacotta
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