Nate Schmidt discussed all kinds of playoff topics before he was asked the hardest-hitting question of all: Had he ever considered why the Maple Leafs weren’t called the “Maple Leaves”?
“Oh because of the plural thing?” Schmidt said, laughing after a Capitals practice last Tuesday. “You know, in all my years of watching and following hockey I’ve never thought of that. It’s just the Maple Leafs, you know? That’s the team name.”
Then Schmidt paused.
“But is it wrong?”
No, as it turns out, it’s not.
An email to the University of Toronto department of linguistics cleared up this confusion (if there was any). J.K. Chambers, a professor in the department, graciously answered the “Leafs vs. Leaves?” question the day after the Capitals and Maple Leafs started their first-round playoff series.
“Your conundrum about the pluralization of the Maple Leafs may be less interesting than you were hoping for,” Chambers wrote. “It follows the simple rule that nouns used as proper nouns take regular (productive) plurals even if their common noun counterparts have irregular plurals.”
Let’s unpack this a bit, starting with why Maple Leaf is a proper noun in this case.
History has it that Conn Smythe named the team after the Maple Leaf badge worn by soldiers in the Canadian Army during World War I.
So, to follow Chambers’s lesson that proper nouns take regular plurals, more than one Maple Leaf badge would be referred to as Maple Leafs. By that same token, two Maple Leaf players are referred to as Maple Leafs, not Maple Leaves. That is how we get the Toronto Maple Leafs, who play host to the Capitals for Game 3 at 7 p.m. Monday.
Other examples of proper nouns taking regular pronouns (provided by Chambers and annotated by The Post):
• A stack of Life Magazine editions would be a stack of “Lifes” (regular plural) instead of “Lives” (irregular plural).
Note: A “stack of lives” is what D.C.’s sports teams shred every postseason.
• A friend of mine is going to the Beartooth Mountains at Easter. She is going hiking in the Beartooths. (Not in the Bearteeth.)
Note: FACT, this is a legitimate Google News result when you try to find the location of the Beartooth Mountains — “Why This Taxidermist Will Never Stuff Your Dead Pet.”
• My department has ordered the new wireless mouses for every computer we have. (They did not order wireless mice.)
Note: Mice are animals, have always been wireless creatures and HR would frown on any decision to invite vermin into the workplace. Also, Professor Chambers’s department is pretty baller on the IT front.
“I hope this helps,” Chambers concluded.
For someone spending too much time wondering why the Capitals weren’t playing the Leaves, it certainly did.