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Thinners
Posted: 23 March 2007 01:12 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Why the plural?  A thinner is something that thins, but to thin paint, you use thinners.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 03:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Do you? That’s news to me.

If I (in SE England) wanted something for thinning paint, I’d go to B&Q and ask for paint thinner. If the assistant said “Paint thinners are in Aisle 9” I would assume the plural was because Aisle 9 held different types or brands of paint thinner.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 03:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 23 March 2007 03:42 AM

Do you? That’s news to me.

If I (in SE England) wanted something for thinning paint, I’d go to B&Q and ask for paint thinner. If the assistant said “Paint thinners are in Aisle 9” I would assume the plural was because Aisle 9 held different types or brands of paint thinner.

That’s just the same as my take in South Leftpondia, and I’ve been around.

Edit for typo

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Posted: 23 March 2007 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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OED is aware of the plural usage, terming it ‘colloquial’. And, to judge by the cites, it is very common.

2. (Also in colloq. pl. form.) A liquid used to dilute paint, printing-ink, etc., to a suitable consistency.

1904 Jrnl. Franklin Inst. July 17 The painter then adds thinners until the paint will work under his brush. 1958 B. BEHAN Borstal Boy III. 338 He..told me where I’d find an extra can of turps, if I wanted thinners. 1967 Gloss. Paper/Ink Terms for Letterpress Printing (B.S.I.) 9 Thinner, a fluid for addition to a printing ink to reduce its consistency. 1973 J. G. TWEEDDALE Materials Technol. II. ii. 33 A viscous liquid constituent may present particular problems, perhaps requiring..thinning by solution with a volatile thinner, to make it fluid enough for mixing and pouring. 1980 New Scientist 23 Oct. 244/1 This bottle of correction fluid..would be all right if I..added thinners.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Very common - especially if you are just saying ‘thinners’ without qualifying what sort of thing you wanted to thin (I might say ‘paint thinner’ but I would never ask where the ‘thinner’ is)

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Posted: 23 March 2007 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Huh.  I’ve never heard this either.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’m guessing that like meths, maths, and (singular) innings, it’s a British thing, though apparently not ubiquitous even there.  But I can’t recall where flynn is from.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 08:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I say thinners. Learned it from my dad. We’re both from California.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Dr. Techie - 23 March 2007 08:21 AM

But I can’t recall where flynn is from.

see last post in Haitch mob.

Here in Devon ...

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Posted: 23 March 2007 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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An if we go beyond what we call it and read the fine print a “paint thinner” may contain several “paint thinners”.  “Mineral spirits” are probably in the same aisle as “paint thinner(s)”.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Droogie’s correct in my experience as are all the other posts. A can of thinner (singular) may contain a variety of chemicals, in particular where the paint is not standard alkyd/linseed-oil paint but is a more hi-tech conglomeration of polymerizing carbon-chain etc., etc. Thus one can may be full of thinners (plural). Seldom is one isolated chemical indicated, except in such cases as acetone or xylene. Lacquer thinner is a chemical soup. Even a can of “mineral spriits” contains some spectrum of petroleum distillates, usually at the bottom, junk end of what’s derived from the stack at the refinery. However, in reality, this does not explain why in common usage the term should be plural, since most users have no idea what they are purchasing in a can of paint or thinner. In my part of the world, it is always singular: “a can of thinner”, unless, as already noted, there is a variety indicated.

It’s worth noting, by the way, (as I was informed by a paint chemist) that strictly speaking water in latex (emulsion) paint is not a thinner but is a “blocker”, something that keeps the acrylics or rubbers from conjoining, cross-linking, or polymerizing until it evaporates. A “thinner” on the other hand simply thins down the vehicle during application while the other process, e.g. oxidation of drying oils or inter-reaction between part A and part B in the case of epoxies, can take place freely.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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1958 B. BEHAN Borstal Boy III. 338 He..told me where I’d find an extra can of turps, if I wanted thinners.

Note the similar use of turps for turpentine , often used by woodworkers .

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Posted: 23 March 2007 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 23 March 2007 03:42 AM

Do you? That’s news to me.

If I (in SE England) wanted something for thinning paint, I’d go to B&Q and ask for paint thinner. If the assistant said “Paint thinners are in Aisle 9” I would assume the plural was because Aisle 9 held different types or brands of paint thinner.

This is how I (U.S.) would use thinner(s) also.  On the other hand, if I were at the auto parts store and asked for motor oil, I would not expect to be told that “Oils are in Aisle 9” regardless of the variety of type or brand.  These things aren’t necessarily consistent.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I am surprised that other Brits are unaware of the term “thinners”.  I have in my possession a can labelled “Cellulose Thinners”, so presumably that is what the manufacturers call it.

Papawswrench’s idea that it might have arisen from the word “turps”, which like “meths” appears not to be a plural suggests that, in the days before petroleum when all oil-based paint was thinned with turpentine, turpentine = thinner might have progressed to turps = thinners.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 11:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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It seems to me that some of us may perhaps be looking for logic where logic is not. The “s” in “thinners” (as has already been pointed out) isn’t always there (though in “turps”, I’d say it always is --- never heard “turp”, except as an eructation). One can find parallels (or non-parallels) if one looks: some say “methylated spirit”, others “methylated spirits”; some might say either, as the spirit takes them (in Spanish, the term’s always singular: no-one ever says ”espíritus de vino”). One apothecary might say “spirit of hartshorn”, another “spirits of hartshorn”. One person’s spirits are downcast; another’s spirit is uplifted.
A friend who was in the Royal Navy when grog was still issued, told me that if one wished to honour a mate, one might offer him (in those days seamen were always “him") “sippers” from one’s allowance; if the occasion were very special, one might even offer “gulpers”. But only one sip, or gulp, was intended.

Go figure.

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Posted: 24 March 2007 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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On the other hand, if I were at the auto parts store and asked for motor oil, I would not expect to be told that “Oils are in Aisle 9” regardless of the variety of type or brand.  These things aren’t necessarily consistent.

But one might say “bath oils are in Aisle 9.” These things aren’t necessarily consistent even with the same word.

I wonder if the governing factor is whether we consider the different varieties to be separate entities with distinguishable properties. Different paint thinners are used for different types of paint. Varieties of bath oils are used for different cosmetic and aromatic properties. But motor oil, despite the differing brands and grades, is just motor oil.

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