An Excerpt From: David Sedaris, “Me Talk Pretty One Day.”
“Amy denied that she was bored and lonely. The problem, she said, was that she was hungry. “All I had on the plane were a couple of Danish. Can we go out for pancakes?”
The noun “Danish” (rather than the national affiliation) has always confused me. For instance, I know in the passage above that – Amy Sedaris’ sexual history not withstanding – that she is here referring to having eaten approximately two croissant/cream cheese wads on an airplane. So here is the question…
Data is, despite what many will argue, the plural of datum. The same does not hold true for the word Danish. "The data suggest that Amy ate more than one croissant/cream cheese wad and less than three of them.“
However, when ordering, most people use this plural noun singularly … "After finishing her first, Amy asked the flight attendant if she could have another cream cheese Danish.”
No reasonable person would suggest that Amy ordered two cream cheese Danishes. In fact, oftentimes, Danish is used in a more collective sense … “Amy was happy that the plane offered unlimited refills on coffee and Danish.”
My purpose here is not to call David Sedaris’ grammar and usage to task. On the contrary, I find his essays to be a joyful demonstration of how wit is made wittier when the writer has the technical chops to write precisely what he or she means to say.
Instead, I’d like to get a handle on when and how Danish came to be used in both singular and plural senses simultaneously.