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Frage:
Zirkel - compass/pair of compasses British v. US usage  
von Windfall (GB), Last modified: 2018-10-22, 10:51  like dislike  Spam?  
I've been reading a book about the differences between US and UK English. Unfortunately the book has been written by an American who appears not to have checked too hard if his statements about British English are correct and representative of modern usage (also, it was published in 2003, so it is conceivable some usage may have changed). The key point is that it is somewhat unreliable in its pronouncements on British English. I am assuming, but not certain that he is more accurate about US English. One of the book's pronouncements is that compass/(pair of) compasses when meaning an instrument for describing circles (Zirkel) is singular in US English and plural in British English. We have no tag on the entries in the dict to tell people this, and if it is true, I feel it would be useful.
On the other hand, having had a look at a few dictionaries, I am not sure that it is true that Americans =only= call the device a compass and the British =only= call it (a pair of) compasses. I remember calling it "(a pair of) compasses" at school, but I'm not sure I would find "compass" wrong. However, this may be due to reading US texts. What do other UK and US speakers think? Is there enough of a tendency to call it "a compass" in the US (and rarely to call it a pair of compasses), that this warrants an [esp. Br.] on the "compasses" and "pair of compasses" entries? What about the other way round? Is there a strong enough tendency to prefer "(pair of) compasses" in the UK and not use "compass" to put an  "[esp. Am.] on the compass/Zirkel entry?
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compass
: an instrument for describing circles or transferring measurements that consists of two pointed branches joined at the top by a pivot —usually used in plural
— called also pair of compasses
Collins (British):
2. plural noun [oft a pair of NOUN]
Compasses are a hinged V-shaped instrument that you use for drawing circle
Oxford (British):

An instrument for drawing circles and arcs and measuring distances between points, consisting of two arms linked by a movable joint, one arm ending in a point and the other usually carrying a pencil or pen.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/compass
‘a regular heptagon cannot be constructed accurately with only ruler and compass’
More example sentences
‘Some secondary admissions policies are geographically based literally a map and a pair of compasses; others put loyalty to local feeder schools first.’
‘In 1563, at the age of 17, Tycho observed a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn using a simple pair of compasses held close to his eye to measure the angle between the two planets on successive nights as the conjunction approached.’
‘Postulate she puts those on with a pair of compasses.’
‘Roughly, one measures everything with a ruler and compass and sets things up according to strict astrological correspondences.’
‘Gauss had stated that the problems of duplicating a cube and trisecting an angle could not be solved with ruler and compasses but he gave no proofs.’
‘Using a compass to create hundreds of circles in delicate works on paper, Hesse carried Minimalist repetition and seriality to the point of obsession.’
Antwort: 
I have always said compass,  #898921
von Lllama (GB/AT), 2018-10-22, 18:02  like dislike  Spam?  
and that was what was said by everyone at school (and outside school).
I had only ever come across (pair of) compasses in historical texts until I read something about differences between AE and BE a couple of years ago :-)

I don't think an AE tag on the singular is necessary because that is definitely also used in the UK. Hopefully an AE Speaker will comment on usage in America.
Antwort: 
von Windfall (GB), 2018-10-22, 19:30  like dislike  Spam?  
 #898926
Thanks, Lllama, that was helpful.
Antwort: 
von aphoenix (US), 2018-10-22, 20:38  like dislike  Spam?  
 #898929
AE usage:  A compass is a tool for drawing circles, etc. One would use a pair of compasses only if one were ambidextrous and in a hurry,
Specific sentences:
"‘a regular heptagon cannot be constructed accurately with only ruler and compass’"  Linguistically correct.  Probably true.  
"Some secondary admissions policies are geographically based literally a map and a pair of compasses; others put loyalty to local feeder schools first.’"  ???  Took me a while to figure out what was meant.  The author means, and a competent writer would have said, in AE, "Admissions policies at some secondary schools are based on geography and can be mapped using a ruler and compass.  Others consider the primary school the student attended and grant preference to students from certain feeder schools."
"‘In 1563, at the age of 17, Tycho observed a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn using a simple pair of compasses held close to his eye to measure the angle between the two planets on successive nights as the conjunction approached.’"  In AE that would be "... a simple compass held...".
"‘Postulate she puts those on with a pair of compasses.’" What?  
"‘Roughly, one measures everything with a ruler and compass and sets things up according to strict astrological correspondences.’"  Ok.
"Gauss had stated that the problems of duplicating a cube and trisecting an angle could not be solved with ruler and compasses but he gave no proofs." In AE "with ruler and compass".
"Using a compass to create hundreds of circles in delicate works on paper, ..." Ok,
Antwort: 
von Windfall (GB), 2018-10-22, 21:58  like dislike  Spam?  
 #898932
Thanks, aphoenix. So it sounds like we need to add [Br.] to (pair of) compasses.  Can any other AE speakers confirm this? It's so hard to prove non-usage, some corroboration that it should definitely be [Br.] not [esp. Br.] would be ideal
Chat:     
von aphoenix (US), Last modified: 2018-10-23, 00:27  like dislike  Spam?  
 #898937
While you're waiting, here's one approach to measuring empirical usage.  In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  The US had not yet launched a satellite.  Shocked Americans concluded that the US educational system was at fault and a massive push for more and better teaching of math and science followed almost immediately.(1)  This could be expected to have resulted in an increase in the amount of math and science books, both textbooks for K-12 and to a lesser extent other literature.  If school children had been asked to draw figures with a "pair of compasses", we would expect usage of "compasses" to increase significantly around 1960.  Instead, we see a significant jump in the use of "compass" around 1960, whereas the use of "compasses" remained flat. https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content="compass"%2...  (1800-2008 Ngram, smoothing 3 (in order to catch the significant jump around 1960), American English)
(1) For example, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958.
Chat:     
von cameron-coombe (NZ), 2018-10-23, 05:20  like dislike  Spam?  
 #898939
In NZ we always referred to them in the singular. I've never heard the plural until now. Interestingly, the MW and dictionary.com, both American dictionaries, record this sense but do not comment on usage:
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compass
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pair-of-compasses
It is in the OED too, which doesn't comment on usage either:
III. The mathematical instrument.
4.
a. An instrument for taking measurements and describing circles, consisting (in its simplest form) of two straight and equal legs connected at one end by a movable joint. Now gen. in plural; also pair of compasses.
Modifications of this instrument are the bow-compasses (see bow-compass n.); beam-, calliper- hair-compasses, etc. Similar instruments for describing figures other than circles are specified by a corresponding adj., as elliptic, oval, triangular compasses; also proportional compasses: see these adjs.
http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/37466?rskey=Q1Puko&result=1&i...

Maybe the dictionaries haven't kept up here! I'd be interested in knowing if schoolkids in the UK still refer to them like this
Antwort: 
von Windfall (GB), 2018-10-23, 10:33  like dislike  Spam?  
 #898945
I suspect "pair of compasses" is falling out of favour, as it's so much easier to say "compass". Thanks, cameron-coombe. Despite not being American, your comment corroborates the idea that it's only us Brits who use the plural. I'm going to add [Br.] to "pair of" and to "compasses" used in the plural in English to match a singular in German.
Antwort: 
MW collegiate und unabridged  #898946
von Wenz (DE), Last modified: 2018-10-23, 10:48  like dislike  Spam?  
an instrument for describing circles or transferring measurements that consists of two pointed branches joined at the top by a pivot —usually used in plural—called also pair of compasses
http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/collegiate/compass
---
usually com·pass·es plural :  an instrument for describing circles, transferring measurements, and similar operations consisting in its simple form of two pointed branches joined at the top by a pivot, one of the branches generally having a pen or pencil point — called also pair of compasses
http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/compass

Vielleicht sollte man einen Täg [archaic] oder [dated] verwenden - aber ich habe keine Ahnung!
Antwort: 
von Windfall (GB), Last modified: 2018-10-23, 11:04  like dislike  Spam?  
 #898947
The problem is that it's only archaic/dated outside of the UK. AFAIK, you can still say (pair of) compasses in the UK (although it may well be dying out). I'd be happy to go with an [esp. Br.].

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