Talk:Backing vocalist

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"backup" or "backing" or both?[edit]

I have swapped the redirect over from backup -> backing as this has twice as many hits on Google and is the term I have always heard. Anyone disagrees: apologies. {Btljs 21:24, 4 January 2006 (UTC)}

Due to [edit: UK] dictionary entries and due to confusion caused by "backup singer" [edit: perhaps] also meaning [edit: being understood as] "substitute", "backing singer" would seem to definitely be the better [edit: more logical] term [edit: but statistics, not logic determines language use!]. The [edit: UK] dictionaries i checked don't mention this common although sloppy [edit: US] use of "backup". But the article should at least mention that "backup singer" is also very often used and perhaps more often than "backing singer" to mean this. What search terms did you use? Did you use quotes? I found the opposite results and most of the hits i checked were not using "backup singer" to mean "substitute":

299,000 for "backup singers 137,000 for "backing singers 148,000 for "background singers

232,000 for "backup singer 102,000 for "backing singer 78,500 for "background singer

Google even shows an old version of this article that i propose should be used for ideas (background singer!) how to fix this:

Backing singer, backup singer, background singer, and background vocalist are all terms with the same meaning: a vocalist who sings in support (in back-up)

--Espoo 11:28, 30 March 2006 (UTC)

The first (and so far only) place I've seen "backup singer" (or "background singer", which make a bit more sense) was Wikipedia. I suspect it's the result of sloppy teenagers mishearing and not really grasping the meaning (the essays I'm given to mark are full of this sort of modern malapropism: "tow the line" for "toe the line", "sort" for "sought", etc.). --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 12:46, 30 March 2006 (UTC)
You are confusing problems caused by the outdated and inadequate English spelling system with variations in use of existing vocabulary. What you are describing is the outdated spelling system being confronted by a new generation that is used to writing the way they speak. This will eventually become the norm and force the older generations to implement the spelling reforms that have been and could be put off for several centuries because it used to be a privilege to be able to read and write. In countries where almost everybody has these skills nowadays, many young people feel it is no longer necessary to show that you belong to the privileged by knowing how to spell. They are of course rudely awakened by their first job applications, but even that is changing rapidly. Many smart bosses are realising that they're missing out on bright kids that the competition is getting. The stupid equation of spelling problems with stupidity has always made companies miss out on dyslexics, of whom a much higher percentage than the general population are gifted and even geniuses. Nowadays, staring at the spelling of job applications carries the real risk of missing out on even average intelligence. But to get back to the issue at hand...
Apparently you didn't understand the overwhelming evidence provided by the numbers above. They prove that use of "backup singer" in the sense of "backing singer" is very widespread and not a case of only a small group's sloppy or purposely different use. "Backup singer" is much more common worldwide than the term you are familiar with. If you never heard it before, it could very well be a regional e.g. US/UK difference. And even if it were widespread only among teenagers, there should at least be mention of that. See also Singer.
We could even try to convince some users to switch by explaining the also existing and conflicting and perhaps more logical use of "backup singer" to mean "substitute", "cover". On the other hand, a backing singer is someone who also helps and supports, so "backup singer" fits very well with the first(!) meaning of "backup" in the New Oxford (back-up: noun 1 [mass noun] help or support: no police back-up could be expected.)
In the long run, however, language development has much less to do with logic than with pure statistics of usage. Everything that is considered correct English today is the result of what once looked like incorrect usage that eventually became the norm. Such changes usually don't reveal the underlying logic of a new system until much later. The purpose of encyclopedias and dictionaries is to describe the current use and meanings of terms, not what they should mean. Especially Wikipedia is for everyone and it should be very up to date, so it should also record those usages that are not yet in printed reference works but will be in a few years. There is no need for guessing and prediction; if something gets a significant number of Google hits, no modern, self-respecting reference work should ignore it.
So even if only teenagers (or any other large group) but many of them use "backup singer" or any other term in a different way than all other age groups, then their use should be recorded here. We can add the warning that they may be misunderstood by other age groups, but we can't just leave their usage out. --Espoo 18:15, 30 March 2006 (UTC)
No, the figures showed the use on the Internet. I've gone through all the print sources that I have to hand, including CD covers, CD catalogues, etc., and checked the sites for recording companies, and none of them uses these variants. It's true that semi-literates have a much more profound effect on the language now than they used to, thanks to the Internet, which is leading in some cases to unimportant changes, and in others to the impoverishing of the language. If Wikipedia includes this sort of widespread mistake, the status should be made clear; we're not in the business of validating such things. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 19:38, 30 March 2006 (UTC)
You are engaging in speculation, and your search of sources you have at home does nothing except prove that you don't own anything except products with your regional variant of English. I'm almost ashamed to admit that i only did a quick check and relied on New Oxford and Longman being accurate in describing not only UK but also US English. I was distracted by my Internet research because it showed that Btljs searched incorrectly. A quick check of any US dictionary would have shown that New Oxford and Longman are both sloppy in this case. All the US dictionaries i checked have only "backup" in the sense of "backup singer", and none even mention that meaning for backing. In all the UK dictionaries i checked, the opposite of both is true. This is quite surprising in both cases because good dictionaries today strive to include at least the other major form of the world's Englishes for important differences. This only goes to show how little respect music still gets today in education and elsewhere. It seems you don't own any US dictionary and have never realised that US and UK dictionaries are available online for free:
Your comments about the impoverishment of the language are as old and as unfounded as the complaints about the rabble's bad English by the privileged classes since time immemorial. The truth is that almost everything you consider correct English was either invented or approved by the normal, uneducated masses. Especially all the idioms and lively expressions and other things that make up the meat of any language. And the words or usages that weren't invented or approved are considered stilted or outdated by good writers. These changes caused and accepted by the uneducated masses are what keep English and other languages alive, and they are inevitable despite the desperate and futile attempts by the privileged to prevent those changes. Authoritarian societies and their education systems are often able to impose the petrified and stilted language used by the upper classes on those parts of the population that gained access to education, and the result was always a stifling of literature and other arts and sciences. One of the main reasons Shakespeare and the other greatest writers were able to write such excellent texts is because they listened to the living language of the uneducated.
Your comments about the Internet are as ridiculous. The Internet is completely mainstream nowadays, not some kind of teenage and/or semi-literate hangout. If you'd bothered to check for reputable sites, you would have found that "backup singer" is a lot more common than "backing singer" on US university and conservatory sites. The situation is the other way around on UK sites:

402 for "backup singer" site:edu 218 for "back-up singer" site:edu 74 for "backing singer" site:edu

532 for "backup singers" site:edu 360 for "back-up singers" site:edu 290 for "backing singers" site:edu

570 for "backup singer" site:uk 401 for "back-up singer" site:uk 17,000 for "backing singer" site:uk

670 for "back-up singers" site:uk 830 for "backup singers" site:uk 30,900 for "backing singers" site:uk

I also found the following curiosity in New Oxford, which seems to indicate that at some point the normal word for "to back up data" was "to back data": backing store noun Computing: a device for secondary storage of data, such as a drum or disk, that typically has greater capacity than the primary store but is slower to access.
Although nobody says "to back data" anymore, "backing store" is still used, apparently also in US English, and this demonstrates how language development works. The word "backing store" has preserved an outdated use, but nobody sane goes around demanding its abolishment just because the verb usage has changed. As a result, a tension has been created that would/will probably lead to a replacement by "backup store" if the general public starts talking about "backing stores". This will happen even if all the geeks and technicians and computer professors and teachers of the world keep saying that that is incorrect. The funny thing, you see, is that languages have always been democratic and have always obeyed majority rule, even during the millennia before the advent of democracy. Authoritarian rule and outdated systems have never succeeded in postponing the rabble's changes for long. This is even true for writing systems, in which older forms always survive much longer, but as i said before, outdated spellings that, e.g., spell homonyms differently due to historical differences in pronunciation like tow/toe cannot be upheld indefinitely in an age where everyone can read and write. --Espoo 01:48, 31 March 2006 (UTC)
  1. I'm surprised that you assume that I only have British English sources to hand.
  2. Your comments about language are inaccurate, ignoring as they do the fact that, in the past, literacy was limited, as was intercourse between different parts of countries except for the wealthy (and better educated). Local dialects were therefore stronger than they are now, but ordinary people had relatively little impact on language as a whole. You also ignore the huge effect of mass ciommunication, and the access to it of poorly educated people, whose misuse of language through mistakes and ignorance are changing things rapidly (rather than changes being gradual in response to new usage on the basis of need or changing circumstances). Note also the fallacy of arguing from "the complaint has been made before" to "the complaint is ill-founded".
  3. When reliable sources disagree with you, you blame the sources. That's your choice, but shouldn't affect Wikipedia usage.
  4. Google hits include blogs, personal Web sites, etc. University sites include personal and society pages written by undergraduates. None of those is exactly a reliable guide to correct (or even wide) usage.
  5. You haven't commented on the relevant issue — my attempt to find a compromise in the article. You've simply reverted it in the article. yet your own comments are full of speculation and original research, which you accept isn't backed up by dictionaries. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 11:06, 31 March 2006 (UTC)
  1. I didn't assume you have only UK sources at hand; i provided proof.
    ("your search of sources you have at home does nothing except prove that you don't own anything except products with your regional variant of English" At best that simply means hat you're assuming that you're right, and that therefore my sources must be narrow. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης))
    You ignored the proof provided by the US dictionaries i pointed you to at It seems you didn't read or understand this: "All the US dictionaries i checked have only "backup" in the sense of "backup singer", and none even mention that meaning for backing. In all the UK dictionaries i checked, the opposite of both is true. ...It seems you don't own any US dictionary and have never realised that US and UK dictionaries are available online for free:"
  2. I will refrain from more detailed explanations, but any introductory text on linguistics will explain in detail what i already have: almost all aspects of any living language are determined by the masses and not the educated elite. This has always been the case, even in times when the majority was illiterate. The elite does try to prevent changes produced as natural linguistic (phonetic) cycles common to all languages and semantic and grammatical changes, but these attempts are always doomed to failure in the long wrong. In writing, the elite was able to prevent changes much longer, but this is changing, fortunately. This is not a question of language impoverishment, on the contrary; the written language is finally becoming what it should be, a tool, instead of the master, the norm. Language change always has and always will be determined by a simple question of statistics. All that the Internet and other modern communication is doing is providing more pressure to find commonly acceptable forms between communities (UK/US/NZ/India) that would in a different age have developed into mutually unintelligible languages.
  3. I was the one to provide reliable sources; you provided none except claims to a personal collection that specifically does not include US dictionaries. You refused to look at and/or take into account my much more reputable and representative sources than your private collection.
  4. We are talking about huge statistics speaking for widespread use of a term that you wanted to originally ban and then incorrectly and completely speculatively mislabel as informal or "Internet usage". The latter is especially ridiculous because you refuse to look at the reputable US educational institution sites etc. that use exclusively the term you want to discredit. Instead you try to distract from your bias and laziness by vaguely referring to blogs and undergraduates. Perhaps you are neither too lazy to engage in honest research nor too dishonest to take into account the results. In case you are just incompetent in Internet research, let me point out that you could look at the Berklee or Oberlin sites at and and you will see that they use only "backup singer". You probably also don't know about how to search a site using Google in case the site's own search engine doesn't allow phrase searching, so let me help: Add e.g. to the search terms.
  5. Your "attempt to find a compromise in the article" was not that at all. It was ridiculous and incorrect speculation that ignored ample proof provided here in the talk page that the terms you are trying to discredit and mislabel are the only correct terms in reputable, established US usage. I reverted your changes because they were speculative and factually incorrect. Your revert is against the rules of Wikipedia because you didn't give an explanation in the summary and because you didn't react to the proof of the inaccuracy of your claims and homespun research. There was no original research in my comments. If what i said about linguistics and the forces and statistics behind langage change were new to you, that doesn't make them original. In any case, they were not relevant to the issue at hand. They were an attempt to show you the parochialism and lack of understanding behind your toe/tow comments and the confusion of spelling and vocabulary issues.
  6. To sum the problem up, you apparently have trouble in following written communication: I never said anything that could be interpreted as meaning "which you accept isn't backed up by dictionaries." Everything i said was specifically backed up by dictionaries and reputable Internet sites. Reread what i wrote slower, and it may sink in. I was commenting on the surprising fact that US usage is not recorded in the 2 reputable UK dictionaries i checked although they usually make an effort to record US usage too. The same was the other way around; the reputable US dictionaries i checked don't have the UK usage in this case. This does not in any way change the result: "backup singer" is correct usage in US English and "backing singer" is almost completely unknown. The opposite is true of UK English.
  7. Do not attempt to undo my revert again because i will have to get the page blocked. Your revert was uncalled for and incorrect and ignored the overwhelming factual and reputable evidence, i.e. it was unintentional vandalism caused by sloppy reading or other problems, but a repeat would be intentional vandalism. --Espoo 20:31, 31 March 2006 (UTC)

I realise that you have a deep emotional investment in this minor point, though I can't claim to know why. It's true that I misunderstood part of what you said; I think that it was because you were unclear, but doubtless you'll disagree. Every U.S. produced album on my shelves (I have roughly 2,000 CDs) uses "backing vocals" not "backup vocals". Why do you think that is if "backup" is the preferred U.S. usage? How do you explain: [1] versus [2] at one of your preferred sites? --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 22:10, 31 March 2006 (UTC)

If you do not understand that an encyclopedia should not contain factual errors and should not be mislabeling accepted, correct, and reputable US usage as inferior to your regional English preferences, then you indeed cannot claim to know why i am upset about your behavior. This has nothing to do with any kind of emotional attachment. I would defend correct representation of UK usage against a Texan bigot too. Your regional bias and inability to open a dictionary are childish and unbecoming of an encyclopedia editor. This kind of blatant bias and speculation ("lately") is definitely no minor point. You still have not looked in any US dictionaries, and the the Berklee search results do nothing but prove that "backup singer" is also acceptable usage. I guess it was Oberlin or a different reputable site that had only that variant. In any case, these links definitely nail the case and require outside help to prevent your now intentional vandalism: backup 1a. A reserve or substitute. b. Computer Science A copy of a program or file that is stored separately from the original. 2a. Support or backing. b. Music A background accompaniment, as for a performer. backup 1 a : one that serves as a substitute or support <a backup plan> b : musical accompaniment backing 1. Something forming a back: the backing of a carpet. 2a. Support or aid: financial backing. b. Approval or endorsement: The President has backing from the farm belt. 1 : something forming a back 2 a : SUPPORT, AID b : endorsement especially of a warrant by a magistrate

--Espoo 22:50, 31 March 2006 (UTC)

Addition: This is completely ridiculous; you are actually engaging in surreptitious if not downright dishonest behavior to cover up your bad blunder and parochialism. I had correctly searched with "backing singers" zero hits and "backing singer" zero hits and

6 from for "backup singer".

2 from for "backup singers".

and you tried to hide that blatant fact by looking for "backing vocalist".

--Espoo 23:08, 31 March 2006 (UTC)

My search term produced slightly more hits overall, which is why it seemed better evidence (eight for "backing vocals", three for "back-up vocals". "Vocalists" produced one and three respectively. Are you really saying that these figures support your contention that "backup" is the preferred usage in the U.S.? What seems to have been shown at best is that there's no preferred usage at Berklee, at least.
Since this is such a small sample, all it proves is that both are acceptable. More importantly, it proves that it is factually incorrect to label "backup" as informal or Internet usage. I will look at the Berklee hits in more detail, but the ones i saw were in well-edited essays and news where no informal usage would be tolerated. Also, the fact that there are no hits for "backing singer" compared to some for "backup singer" show that there is strong reason to believe that the latter is much more common. It may even be that the "backing" examples are due to British influence.
Speculation about the reasons for the use that you're claiming isn't preferred is not convincing, and can't be the basis for what's said in this article.
You're skirting the issue again. Did you even read what i said about "well-edited" and "news"? There are two parts to what i said. 1) If experts use "backup singer" it is acceptable, standard English and it is factually incorrect to label it as informal or "Internet" use. 2) The fact that Oberlin and Berklee use only "backup" and never "backing singer" is a very strong indication that the latter is perhaps not standard and definitely not as widespread US usage, but my speculation about this and its possible causes on the Berklee site changes nothing in 1) which proves that your claims are speculation and factually incorrect.
English dictionaries report informal and minority usage as well as formal and majority usage (unlike French dictionaries, for example, which are prescriptive). My version says that "backup" and "backing" are now used mainly informally and on the Internet. That is all that you've established, so what is your complaint?
I have seen on your user page what your education and profession is, and i have a hard time believing that this kind of comment is naive instead of purposely deceptive or even devious. You know very well that reputable dictionaries such as American Heritage and Merriam-Webster clearly label informal and minority usage as such. The links you refused to look at and that i had to post to confront you with are clearly marked as standard, acceptable English due to lack of any restrictive label.
You're saying that the lack of a label saying "not-P" constitutes a clear label saying "P"? So you consider that anything not clearly labelled as not your property is therefore clearly labelled as your property? (Also, most dictionaries, especially concise, compact, and one-volume dictioanries) don't label the difference between formal and informal language unless the informality is very great (that is, usually, at the level of slang.)
You are again skirting the issue. US dictionaries don't even list the British musical meaning for "backing", and UK dictionaries don't even list the US meaning for "backup". It's a clear-cut US/UK difference. And yes, American Heritage and other reputable dictionaries *always* *clearly* label informal usage as such. (Educated) US Americans are even more afraid than British people of being labeled as uneducated. You can be very sure that there are only very few omissions of "informal" labels, and they would not be in more than one dictionary.
As for your peculiar personal attack that I was being surreptitious and dishonest, I suggest that you calm down. I said exactly what I'd searched for, just as you did; you looked for one set of relevant terms, I looked for another.
The most important part of an honest intellectual discourse is to acknowledge facts. By not saying something like "That's interesting, i'm surprised 'backing singer(s)' got no hits and 'backup' did, but look at what i found using 'vocalist'" and instead posting that result as seemingly showing that i'd claimed something incorrectly, you were most probably not being naive.
So because I didn't express myself in the way that you wanted me to, I was surreptitious and dishonest? I find my eye straying to those parts of this page where you get very insulting about my supposed prescriptiveness.
The whole problem was that you *didn't* say what you searched for. All you had were the links, and they made it seem like i'd goofed and claimed something incorrect. I see now that you did mention the search terms in the previous paragraph, so it seems i overreacted, and i want to apologise for that. Nevertheless, your interpretation of the results is illogical. Just because you found examples of "backing" doesn't mean that "backup" is not standard US English used by experts in the field. The whole point is that you're trying to say something factually incorrect about "backup", and no amount of "backing" hits will help you there. Especially since they are much less on all US sites, on all US university sites, and on pages written by US experts on music.
For what it's worth, looking at what links to this article, I'm finding that most links to "backup singer", for example, are in fact piped "backing vocals".
I'll list this at RfC, to see what other editors say. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:18, 1 April 2006 (UTC)
Yes, it looks like you definitely need someone else to point out to you that you are tilting at windmills in attempts to label as informal what is in wide and accepted and reputable use just because it is unfamiliar to you and perceived as an attack on your little world and language habits. I would be very interested in hearing what your colleagues at Oxford say if they heard that you publicly declared that the American Heritage and Merriam-Webster entries are not proof of standard English usage. Since you are also a Wikipedia admin, as i discovered, i feel that your behavior is not only embarrassing but doubly shocking and reprehensible.
The only semi-excuse for your behavior is that there are many other people like you that despite high educational levels in other areas prove themselves pseudointellectuals in things that affect them personally, such as different language use, which they perceive as threatening their personal control of their own use of the language, oftentimes acquired with great efforts. Simply put, many highly educated people are tired of being "found out" as bad spellers or as having some other practical language problem. Others simply enjoy the power trip of trying to force others to conform to their language habits. In case someone needs background information on this widespread problem among highly educated people who are linguistics amateurs despite claiming to be language experts, see Linguistics#Prescription_and_description --Espoo 10:15, 1 April 2006 (UTC)
  1. See Wikipedia:No personal attacks, again. You seem to be losing more and more control, and are beginning to get to a point where your aggression and language are blockable. (That isn't a threat; I don't block people for insulting or attacking me, any more than I protect articles edited by me, etc.. It's just an attempt to get you to see that you're going well beyond the standards of adult, civilised discourse, in the hope that you'll draw back and allow the discussion to continue productively.)
  2. Avoid weasel-words ("some people say", etc.), and don't carry disagreements from Talk pages into the wording of articles.
  3. This seems to me to be the situation:
    • The evidence shows that "backing", "backup", and "background" are all used, the latter two in the U.S., the first in the U.S. and elsewhere.
    • I believe that the U.S.-specific uses are mainly informal (which is backed up by the failure of any record company, so far as I've been able to tell, to use them on album covers, etc., but which I haven't proved).
    • You believe that the U.S.-specific uses are the preferred uses. I claim that the evidence you've supplied doesn't demonstrate that (only that they are U.S. uses), and that the evidence of the CD covers is against it.
    • I'm not clear whether you agree that the U.S.-specific uses are more recent; you've cast doubt on that in at least one of your versions of the article, but that might have been inadvertent. I don't honestly see that there are grounds for disagreement, though; Googling isn't very good at determining that sort of thing, but all the non-Googleable evidence that I've seen supports my claim.
    • So we're each saying something that the other denies, and neither of us has provided conclusive evidence — you for the claim that "backup" and "backing" are preferred formal usage in the U.S., and me that they're primarily informal usage. Naturally I think that the case for my view is stronger (otherwise I shouldn't hold it), and presumably you hold the reverse.
    • Why not wait for other editors to give opinions (and, I hope, provide fresh evidence) before rewriting the article? --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 21:55, 1 April 2006 (UTC)
I may have overreacted, but that is hopefully excusable and definitely quite a minor offense compared to your behavior. You have knowingly engaged in vandalism by repeatedly removing material extensively documented in reputable sources. You have engaged in attempts to impose your provincial and parochial prescriptive views of correct language on an international encyclopedia. You have made ridiculously incorrect claims about usage labeling in reputable dictionaries. These are not personal attacks, these are summaries of your behavior. Saying that attempts to engage in language prescription are pseudointellectual since at least the 1970s is not a personal attack either. Your claims that text on records produced by multinational corporations can compare to the scientific descriptive value of dictionaries is as pseudointellectual and basically ridiculous coming from someone with your level of education. Ask some linguistics colleagues at Oxford about your opinions on American Heritage vs. record sleeves and you'll see i have every reason to ridicule your claims. Showing that your claims are ridiculous is *not* a personal attack, and i'm very sorry if you construed it as that.
  1. Avoid weasel-words ("some people say", etc.), and don't carry disagreements from Talk pages into the wording of articles.

They were an attempt to find a compromise that was much better than the current situation, which is nothing but a childish new revert. This is not worthy of an admin. I find your behavior reprehensible. See below for my summary of your edits.

  1. This seems to me to be the situation:
    • The evidence shows that "backing", "backup", and "background" are all used, the latter two in the U.S., the first in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Incorrect; all US dictionaries i consulted list only "backup" and some reputable US sites use only or mostly "backup".

    • I believe that the U.S.-specific uses are mainly informal (which is backed up by the failure of any record company, so far as I've been able to tell, to use them on album covers, etc., but which I haven't proved).

Incorrect personal belief based on misunderstanding of texts produced by international record companies.

    • You believe that the U.S.-specific uses are the preferred uses. I claim that the evidence you've supplied doesn't demonstrate that (only that they are U.S. uses), and that the evidence of the CD covers is against it.

You continue to ignore the clear US dictionary evidence and reputable site evidence and the clear US/UK dictionary dichotomy.

    • I'm not clear whether you agree that the U.S.-specific uses are more recent; you've cast doubt on that in at least one of your versions of the article, but that might have been inadvertent. I don't honestly see that there are grounds for disagreement, though; Googling isn't very good at determining that sort of thing, but all the non-Googleable evidence that I've seen supports my claim.

The "recent" claim is pure speculation. You have nothing to back this up. This kind of a blunder is very severe on the part of an admin, especially in a revert.

    • So we're each saying something that the other denies, and neither of us has provided conclusive evidence — you for the claim that "backup" and "backing" are preferred formal usage in the U.S., and me that they're primarily informal usage. Naturally I think that the case for my view is stronger (otherwise I shouldn't hold it), and presumably you hold the reverse.

Incorrect description; see above and below.

    • Why not wait for other editors to give opinions (and, I hope, provide fresh evidence) before rewriting the article? --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 21:55, 1 April 2006 (UTC)

Let me sum up the situation as i see it:

The main argument is that "backup singer" (in the sense of the article, see below) is a) standard, b) accepted, and c) widespread: a) It is recorded, for example, in American Heritage and Merriam-Webster without any comment of "colloquial". b) It is used more often than "backing singer" on reputable US sites and by US experts. c) It generates 2 to 6 times more Google hits on edu sites and more than twice as many on all Internet sites.

Just because most CDs in your CD collection and perhaps even most US record producers use "backing singer" does not make that into widespread or even standard US usage nor does it make "backup singer" colloquial. The record industry has perhaps noted that US consumers also accept the UK term whereas UK consumers balk at the US term. The industry does not want to print different editions, so their choice is clear, but their commercially driven choice is definitely not an authoritative opinion on US usage.

The problem becomes glaring when looking at your speculative and factually incorrect additions to the article. You claim that "There is a recent trend to use the terms "background" or "backup" singer" without any evidence existing for this claim. At best you may be (personally and therefore unscientifically) noticing an increased US influence in UK English in the case of this term, but it is incorrect to claim that this is a worldwide trend. "Backup singer" is so established and widespread in US usage that it is listed in printed US dictionaries as standard English.

You go on to claim "though this is confined to informal and especially to Internet usage." Again, you provide no proof of this. As explained, your record collection cannot be used as proof because of possible commercial interests in choosing only one term for worldwide distribution.

"Proof" of your personal agenda causing bad editing is the following ridiculous speculative and factually incorrect claim: "and the term "backup singer" is used more widely to refer to the vocal equivalent of an understudy." That's maybe what it should mean and what you want it to mean, but it is factually incorrect to claim that this is the case. None of the many Google hits i checked, not to mention the edu-hits, used "backup singer" in this sense.

As spurious is the following "poetry": "A backing singer is in fact not always (or even usually) in the background". This proves nothing because language usage is not based on logic. --Espoo 23:46, 2 April 2006 (UTC)

For the most part, I'm going to wait for otjher editors' comments; this discussion is getting nowhere. Just one point. You claim that U.S dictionaries establish that "backup" is preferred over "backing", saying that some dictionaries don't even mention the use of "backing". You don't however, deny that "backing is used on hundreds of thousands (millions?) of CD covers and associated Websites produced by U.S. companies, written by U.S. writers. Is there not a tension here? Do the dictionaries record usage apart from the music industry? As it's primarily the music indstry with which the article is concerned, should it not take precedence over dictionary-writers here? --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:26, 3 April 2006 (UTC)
This discussion is getting nowhere because you're shirking the issues and ignoring the evidence. Your last desperate attempts to hold on to your factually incorrect and speculative claims can be easily disqualified too: If "backup" is recorded as standard, correct US English in reputable dictionaries, then it is childish and ridiculous to claim that this may be incorrect because some other term is also in use. Just because the reduced online versions of dictionaries don't mention "backing" in this sense doesn't mean it perhaps isn't in a larger edition. You seem to lack basic understanding of how rigorously a term is checked before it is adopted into a reputable dictionary. In order for "backup" to have been accepted as standard, unlabeled English, there had to be evidence of very extensive and long-term use in especially written and especially reputable sources. The fact that "backing" is not in abridged versions in the musical sense means that it is rare in general use and in reputable sources. This is backed by my searches of reputable sites. Your seemingly contradictory result for "vocalist" on one site doesn't prove anything because of the small sample and because it also shows use of "backup".
You're quite right that dictionaries should pay more attention to use in commercial and informal contexts such as Internet sites and texts produced by companies, but that does not mean that a term that is not found on commercial sites is not standard English. In other words, you are accidentally demanding dictionaries to react faster to new trends. This is very ironic considering your reactionary attitude to language use by the general public. It is very possible that "backing" is a new and not yet standard term in US English that is promulgated by the Big Four due to commercial interests. And yes, modern dictionary makers are beginning to take Google hits very seriously. Scientists know that Google and other search engines are very powerful new methods to observe language change and status quo. There are easy and powerful methods for determining if a change in hits is due to an idiosyncrasy of only a small group of people or of only one person spreading to many sites due to copying. Attempts to disqualify large amounts of Google hits as not representing mainstream and established offline usage are clearly an attempt to grind an ax.
In addition, you were apparently quite sloppy in claiming "and checked the sites for recording companies, and none of them uses these variants." Of the big four, Warner, Universal, and EMI have none, unusable, or dysfunctional search functions, and they don't let Google into their sites. Sony's is very primitive too in that it only works with IE and requires one to pop up each search result in a new window, but at least it works. Here are the hits for "backup singer" numbered 131-141:
There are perhaps many more, but the primitive search function does not give that info. Here are the hits 51-61 for "backing singer" and this seems to be the end because some of these already have only "singer":
Give up Mel, this whole dicussion is absolutely ridiculous and just shows your provincial bias. Nobody is saying "backing" should be removed or even listed second, but your claims about the "inferiority" etc. of "backup" are simply incorrect and made up. Take a look at the OED and its age-old tradition of language description. You can be sure that the OED wouldn't record some French word used only by Norman nobility or French perfume salesmen if the general public in England always used a different term, even if the French term had been the official one used exclusively in official contexts -- unless of course it was some important concept. And only the most important musical terms are traditionally in general dictionaries, and "backup/backing singer" is definitely not one of them. --Espoo 19:04, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

The RfC has been listed for less than four days; so far there's no obvious consensus. Please stop editing the article in line with your position on the basis that conssensus has been achieved. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 21:56, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

The obvious consensus is that "backup" is widespread and acceptable US usage because the US users say they've never heard of "backing" and the UK users don't dream of claiming that "backup" is incorrect or informal or "Internet" usage because they don't have an ax to grind like you do. Unless any unreasonable or bigoted UK users show up, there is little reason to believe any arguments along your lines will show up. More importantly, the US dictionary references validate the so far only personal and therefore only amateur RFCs (which you're trying to misuse as pseudoscientific evidence!) in clearly stating that "backup" is not only widespread and acceptable but in fact standard US English. Don't you understand enough about statistics to see the hilariousness of you dismissing Google evidence of massive and widespread usage and simultaneously believing that a poll based on a random and minisample at Wikipedia can be reliable and scientific?! Combined with your attempts to ignore scientific evidence in dictionaries and at an industry website, the situation is an unbelievable case of loss of contact with reality or of a severe ideological problem.
Let me also point out once again that Wikipedia is an international reference work. Let me also point out once again that it is ridiculous to question the authority of reputable US dictionaries with your homespun research. It would be possible to use correct research on industry usage and also of widespread new Internet usage that is not (or not yet) recorded in dictionaries as proof that some term needs to be added to dictionaries, but attempts to use such research to ban or discredit a term recorded as standard in a dictionary are ridiculous. You're clumsily trying to discredit reputable dictionaries that are not older than a few years! In addition, your research on industry usage seems to have been very sloppy at the least. I'm beginning to wonder about the quality of your research on your private record collection too.
In addition, considering that you are an admin, your revert habits are clearly reprehensible. If i were a newbie, i'd have given up long ago, and then it could have taken a long time before someone discovered your factually incorrect and speculative edits (based on regional bias and lack of understanding of dictionary labeling policies and of Google hits and of reputable site usage). The whole purpose of Wikipedia is to try to get enough contributors to find a consensus. The reason i wrote "edits" in bold is because you deleted factually correct info before i came and you then reacted childishly when i tried to put it back although i provided references and obviously acted in good faith. As an admin, you should have encouraged critical input and refrained from any reverts except in extreme cases and only after discussion and consensus on the talk page. Instead, your kind of behavior scares away most users. There is no danger of you forgetting your opinions and edit proposals, and you can come back after a civilised amount of time and/or discussion, but it is against the spirit of Wikipedia to just delete contributions before discussing them for a long time and trying to convince others of your opinion. There is no sensible reason for you not having left my edits until a consensus has been achieved. There is no reason that your version should be there until proven wrong (for the 15th time!). The whole idea of Wikipedia is that you did the opposite of what an admin should have done. Your extensive use of reverts is in clear violation of one of the most important Wikipedia policies and clearly not worthy of an admin.
The reason this huge discussion is not a waste of time (despite your lack of logic and lack of reference for your claims) is because it helps to expose the fallacy in specious anti-Google arguments like yours and because it shows that your reprehensible behavior is purposeful and based on clearly elitist and unscientific attitudes: this is not a case of a one-time slipup. It seems i will have to start a process to investigate whether your comportment is worthy of an admin elsewhere on Wikipedia too. --Espoo 10:16, 8 April 2006 (UTC)
You claim that the use of "backup" isn't recent, and then argue that I shouldn't dispute the dictionaries because they're recent...
As you should know due to your profession, dictionaries do not get rid of older usage until long after it has been labeled as out of date and then archaic. My argument was that there is no chance of claiming that "backup" has been replaced by "backing" in US English because of the claims you make about usage on US records in your collection. And you're still trying to ignore the proof i provided about the inaccuracy of your claims about usage on sites of major recording companies. "Backup" is established standard US English, and although "backing" may be used on US records sold in the UK, "backup" is more common on the only Internet site of the Big Four with a functional search function.
I'm not, in any case, disputing the dictionaries. I have no doubt that "backup" is used by many Americans; nothing that I've said in the article disputes that.
Yes you do, and you know it. Your article text clearly disputes US dictionary claims. This is ridiculous. As i already explained above, which you ignored:
You speculatively and factually incorrectly claim that "There is a recent trend, primarily in the United States, to use the terms "background" or "backup" singer" without any evidence existing for this claim. At best you may be (personally and therefore unscientifically) noticing an increased US influence in UK English in the case of this term, but it is incorrect to claim that this is a worldwide trend. "Backup singer" is so established and widespread in US usage that it is listed in printed US dictionaries as standard English. In fact, most US Americans have never even heard of "backing".
You go on to claim "though this is mainly found in informal and especially Internet usage." Again, you provide no proof of this. As explained, your personal record collection cannot be used as proof because of possible commercial interests in choosing only one term for worldwide distribution. It is also possible that the covers of US labels are different when sold in the UK.
The article is being discussed here; you've been trying to change the article before the discussion has taken place, and then complaining (at inordinate length and with many personal attacks and sneers) that I've reverted you. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 22:38, 8 April 2006 (UTC)
You removed factually correct information from this article before i even came here. You then added speculative and incorrect information. If you had added your current edits at the beginning, your behavior would be acceptable as a sloppy edit by an admin. Removing words that are valid in a different form of English despite extensive proof and engaging in reverts instead of edits to keep those words out is a serious offense by an admin, especially since i expressly warned you. You are confusing personal attacks with proof of your personal behavior being unworthy of an admin and of being in violation of the basic principles of Wikipedia. --Espoo 17:08, 16 April 2006 (UTC)

Request for Comment[edit]

Could any editor who's come here as a result of the RfC leave their comments below? Thanks. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 21:55, 1 April 2006 (UTC)

  • Well I actually came from the help desk. I live in the UK and I've never heard the term 'backup' singer/vocalist, only backing. Surely if both terms are used in different ways in different countries both should be explained, with reliable sources (i.e. not just any random website). But I'm not at all musical, so take that comment for what you think it's worth. Oh and as I've only just skimmed the text I might have missed the point of this dispute, so just my £0.02! Petros471 22:33, 1 April 2006 (UTC)
  • I live in the U.S. and I've never heard of a "backing singer". In context, the only phrasing I've heard is (for instance) "She was a backup singer for Barry Manilow." Now, I'm not in the music industry, and I don't have any reason to doubt "backup" is an Americanism, but it's in widespread usage here. Applejuicefool 14:10, 3 April 2006 (UTC)
  • I would say 'backup' goes for 'backup singer', while 'backing' is used in 'backing vocalist'. To me they mean the exact same thing, so I dont really care. --T-rex 17:38, 5 April 2006 (UTC)
  • I live in the UK and I use "backing singer", but I have heard American musicians referring to "backup singers" almost exclusively if not exclusively, at least in the last few years. I don't think I have ever seen it in writing, but I haven't really looked. SMeeds 22:47, 5 April 2006 (UTC)
  • I live in the U.S. and the only usage I've heard is "backup singer." Keppa 17:51, 17 April 2006 (UTC)
  • I'm a bit surprised by Amricans who've never come across "backing singer"; I've found it on just about every U.S. CD cover that I've looked at in a random trawl of my shelves, and Google provides loads of North-American examples (though it's difficult to tell what nationality some sites are): for example, IMDb, Amazon, [3], [4], [5], & [6]. It's also used in numerous Wikipedia articles on American people, written as far as I can tell by American editors. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 22:15, 17 April 2006 (UTC)
Just basing this off what I've heard..."backing vocals/vocalist" and "backup singer"; I wasn't aware that they were interchangeable. Keppa 04:31, 20 April 2006 (UTC)
  • The normal English meaning of "backup" is substitute, as in if Plan A fails, Plan B is a backup. However, in American usage it means reinforcement, when Dirty Harry calls for backup, he does not expect to be substituted. I would suggest that the category is renamed "support" vocalist with an opening line saying that in the US it is "backup" vocalist and in UK-English countries it is "backing" vocalist. Both usages are equally valid, and unless there are two categories with identical articles, each with one of the alternatives as heading, there has to be one article to which both headings redirect. So you chaps just shake hands with your buddies over the water! ;-) Sweetalkinguy 21:39, 21 April 2006 (UTC)
  • I appreciate your attempt to find a compromise, but it seems to me that this would be to oversimplify (and to give the article a name that's in fact used by scarcely anyone). My point is that "backing" is used on both sides of the Atlantic (as my citations show), "backup" on only one. I also contend (and here, of necessity, my citations aren't Web-based, but are based on things like CD and LP covers, etc.) that the "backup" usage is relatively recent in the U.S., supplanting the earlier "backing". --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:45, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
  • From an amateur Canadian vocalist (who sings "backup" most of the time...) "backup singer/vocalist" is standard, but "backing" or "background" vocals. My CDs all seem to eschew either term for "additional vocals" or similar euphemisms, but that's hardly a scientific observation.--Marysunshine 01:40, 7 May 2006 (UTC)
  • This doesn't have much to do with terms, but is the long list of backing vocalists really necessary? Gludd20

Case closed[edit]

Hey guys, why didn't you ask a linguist!?! Here we go, anyways.

  • Many meanings of the word backup actually originated in the U.S.; namely, "reserve, substitute," (e.g. backup power supply), "stoppage, accumulation" (e.g. traffic backup), and "backward movement" (e.g. backup light). Backup meaning "support" cannot be thought of as an Americanism, at least as far as its origin is concerned. But American English has always had a tendency to coin and use nouns of this form (e.g. hideout, comeback, spinoff).
  • Backing and backup generally mean "support" everywhere in the English-speaking world. Btw, the term backing store is a "Briticism," but what really sounds "British" in it is the use of the word store to mean "storage."
  • Backup singer is standard in the U.S. (far from being "informal or Internet usage," as the article incorrectly claims), as is backing vocals. Backing singer is not common in American usage, but backing vocals clearly outnumbers backup vocals. Why? Well, just idioms.
  • CALD (Cambridge) has the answer.

HTH, JackLumber. 12:38, 5 July 2006 (UTC)

Thanks for ending this nightmare with the voice of reason and science. In fact, i did ask for help from linguists and tried to get help finding a linguist on and but i guess it would have been better to look for a linguist among Wikipedia editors. Well, now i know whom to ask next time :-)
It seems that an inordinate amount of time and effort on Wikipedia is wasted due to naive unawareness of and bickering about US/UK dichotomies and due to similar lack of linguistic professional skills. In this case, we also got ample proof that even an admin and even a philosophy professor can engage in this sort of dilettantism (in addition to aggressive behavior and vandalism). I suggest that you and other linguists develop some kind of professional linguistic help or emergency squad to put out such useless brushfires because they waste time and otherwise reduce the quality of Wikipedia.
Last but not least, i'd be very interested in your professional opinion on how it's possible that an extensive collection of recordings, including apparently US labels, can have only British usage. This is especially interesting because this British English bias is not reflected on the same record labels' Internet sites. --Espoo 04:21, 22 August 2006 (UTC)

More food for thought......[edit]

I find this to be an interesting discussion. My Google searches today on August 19, 2007 gave me the following results. I used quotes in all searches.

backup singer 198,000
back-up singer 109,000
backing vocalist 119,000
backup vocalist 47,900
back-up vocalist 41,800
background singer 75,300
backing singer 68,800
background vocalist 58,000
support vocalist 539
support singer 519

The picture changes slightly when you make these words plural.

backup singers 260,000
back-up singers 142,000
background singers 116,000
backing singers 112,000
backing vocalists 69,100
backup vocalists 19,400
back-up vocalists 11,300
back ground vocals 31,700

support singers 1,320

support vocalists 281

I include the terms "support singer(s) and "support vocalist(s)" because these terms are used in the USA even though they are used infrequently. The Google search actually inflates their usage since some of the search results use the word "support" as a vowel as opposed to an adjective modifying the word "singer" or "vocalist."

The numbers suggest that "backup (back-up) singer(s)" is the most commonly used term worldwide for an individual or group of individuals doing this kind of vocal work topping out at at a total of 638,800 for both spellings, singular and plural. "Background singer(s)" at 191, 300 and "backing vocalist(s)" at 188, 100 would be the next two most commonly used terms. Backing singer(s) is a close fourth at 180,800.

My personal experience tells me that "backing" is what the British say; "backup" and "background" are what U.S. folks say. All of the terms have a place in the article since they are all clearly in usage if we use Google as a barometer. Much of the previous discussion has been about backup vs. backing but these are not the only two contenders to the throne. "Background" cannot be ignored!

If you look at the course offerings at the Berklee School of Music in the vocal department at [7], you will see that ALL of their courses that deal with this kind of work say "background singer." Berklee is considered to be the foremost institution in the world teaching contemporary music isn't it? I think it's significant that they chose this term instead of the others. Additionally, All Music Guide [8] uses the term "vocal(bckgr)" in their Credits listing. Artist Direct [9] uses "Vocals (background)" in theirs.

Another clue about usage and terms for this type of vocal work is in an article about American Idol's Melinda Doolittle at [10]. The interviewer asks her about her tribute to the backing singers. She responded by saying that they were more than back-up singers and that she preferred to call them support singers. Melinda is from the US and uses terms that are used in the music business in the U.S. I presume that the interviewer is British and naturally leans towards the British terminology. Melinda was a background singer and knows that many who do this work would like to be called "support singers" since it is a more dignified term. The term simply hasn't caught on much in the business as evidenced by the low number in the Google search but it is a term used by some people in the business and as such should be included in the article.

In my humble opinion, the title of this article should be changed back to "Backup singer" with pages for ALL of the other terms that redirect the user to this title. This would allow users to find the info no matter what terminology they use and the article title would reflect the most used terminology in the English language according to Google.

One last comment and then I'm done. If the article were about the vocals as opposed to the vocalist/singer, then things change in terms of what Google usage shows. Here's what the rest of my search shows:

backing vocal(s) 229,000 (1,990,000)
background vocal(s) 111,000 (1,890,000)
backup vocal(s) 27,700 ( 393,000)
support vocal(s) 977 ( 514)

I attribute the huge numbers for the plural versions of these terms to album credits. Backing vocal(s) is clearly the most used term here with background vocal(s) running a very close second. It is clear that what the singers are called is a bit different from what their work is called. These numbers are also further evidence of the validity of all of the terms.

I'm interested to read some other opinions on what I've just said.--Thinkangel 20:58, 19 August 2007 (UTC)

1. My Google search gives backup singer - 350,000
.......................................backing singer - 273,000
2. The first two cds I picked up listed background vocals.
3. Who Cares? Ampwright (talk) 19:22, 16 December 2007 (UTC)

Too many examples[edit]

We don't need to list every backing singer in the history of music. There are far too many examples that have been put in merely for the sake of it, and it makes the article cluttered and messy. Considering most rock bands have backing vocals of some kind, can we not just limit it to the very prominent backing singers? It is the equivalent of listing every rock band that has a guitarist, for example. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:53, 29 August 2011 (UTC)

Agreed. I've removed the lot as totally unnecessary listcruft. I've also tagged the rest of the section, as it appears to be uncited opinion. What criteria is getting used to decide that these are the most notable examples? --Escape Orbit (Talk) 18:37, 9 September 2011 (UTC)

Additional citations[edit]

Why and where does this article need additional citations for verification? What references does it need and how should they be added? Hyacinth (talk) 03:13, 1 February 2012 (UTC)