One day last summer, while showing off his new apartment, my son pointed to his roommate’s impressive crates of albums and said, “Look at all of those vinyls!”
“Don’t you ever say that word again!” my wife and I thundered in mortified parental unison, as if he were a five-year-old who’d just dropped an f-bomb. “They’re records — or albums, or just vinyl. But for the love of God, they’re never, ever ‘vinyls.’”
“Whatever,” he grumbled, as his roommates laughed.
A few weeks later, our teenaged daughter called from a record store. “You’d like it,” she said. “They’ve got cool posters and vinyls.” A similar outburst ensued.
“Whatever,” she grumbled.
The resurgence of vinyl is one of the music world’s most counterintuitive developments. Sales, which have been rising since 2006, soared nearly 30% to $620 million in the U.S. last year as vinyl outsold CDs for the first time since 1986, according to the RIAA — and those sales were largely driven by young people who haven’t grown up with “records.” But they love it for the same reasons older generations do: the warm, analog sound; the big, immersive artwork; the ritual of gently taking out the disc and putting it on a turntable, as if the additional effort — the sense of having to work for it — somehow makes the music more valuable and valued.
But as much as older generations love this trend, one thing they’re attacking with untrammeled get-off-my-lawn fury is the word “vinyls,” which seems specific to Gen-Z; even millennials heap derision upon the ungrammatical term. While most record junkies’ reaction to the mere utterance of the word is sputtering rage, others have a more measured perspective.
“I recognize that a lot of young people use that terminology, and we go out of our way not to be snooty or judge people for any of that stuff,” says Marc Weinstein, co-founder of California’s iconic Amoeba Music record stores. “But I don’t think veterans will ever be able to get used to saying vinyls, ever. There is no such word, absolutely no such word, as far as I’m concerned.”
FUGA Distribution’s Greg Vegas, a record collector of magnitude, offers a diplomatic albeit wordier half-step: “You could say, ‘I just got my vinyl copy of the new Landlady album,’ or ‘I just got my Landlady vinyl in the mail.’ But never vinyls,” he adds, shuddering.
Of course, vinyl (singular) has long been a synonym for what multiple generations have always known as records, along with less-evergreen terms like “wax,” “platters,” “discs,” “long players” and of course “LPs”; the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “phonograph records recorded on vinyl.” The term is derived from polyvinyl chloride, which in the 1940s replaced shellac as the primary substance used to create records due to wartime shortages. Gradually, 33 1/3-rpm long-playing 12-inch albums and 45-rpm 7-inch singles supplanted 78-rpm 10-inch records as the industry standard, and remain so to this day.
However, as the format unexpectedly resurged early in this century, records, perhaps for the first time ever, had a new term. And therein lies the grammatical conundrum: You can buy or play a record, but you can’t buy or play a vinyl. There’s even a popular T-shirt that reads “The plural of vinyl is vinyl.” Still, several authoritative figures have overcome their initial abhorrence and grown to accept the term as a sign of changing times.
“Somewhere along the line, I guess I grew as a person and came to accept it,” laughs Carrie Colliton, a cofounder of Record Store Day and director of marketing for the Department of Record Stores. “I was an English major — ‘vinyls’ used to make me crazy. But record stores are still around and thriving because of young people, so maybe we all need to shake off the Jack Black persona and be more inclusive,” she says, referencing Black’s curmudgeonly record-store clerk character from the 2000 film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel “High Fidelity.” “If they’re buying vinyl — and better yet, buying it from record stores — let these kids call it whatever they want,” she concludes.
Even when confronted with the possibility of “vinyls” joining the controversial “irregardless” in the dictionary, Jason Woodbury, marketing director of long-running independent record store chain Zia Records, is basically fine with it.
“When I was younger I was definitely pretty militant against it, and I have definitely corrected people,” he says. “But maybe this new generation just wants to differentiate themselves — or to piss off the older generation, like young people always have.”
(Additional reporting by Chris Willman)