Saturday, July 28, 2012

On Octopuses

052407art1 by megan_n_smith_99
052407art1, a photo by megan_n_smith_99 on Flickr.

I was in the grocery store today and got involved in a conversation involving the pluralization of several words in English that have been borrowed for other languages. It appeared a number of people were drawn into this conversation. I believe it may have started over a question on the pluralization of the word uterus. I am not sure why anyone would need to know that, while standing in line at Safeway, but there was probably some tabloid story about mutant uteruses or something. I really wish the space next to checkout was reserved for things I am really likely to forget, like coffee, TP, half and half, and dish soap.

One couple believed that Uterus should be pluralized as uteri. Their example was that the plural of octopus is octopi. And I shall now explain to you what I explained to them and I am sorry if you are crushed forever.

The word Octopus is a a borrowed word -a Greek word. The plural in Greek is Octopodes. Since English words are generally pluralized by the addition of an "s" or "es", Octopuses is the correct English plural. However, many people try to pluralize it as Octopi, under the mistaken assumption that Latin words are pluralized by changing the a "us" ending to "i". This might make sense of Octopus WAS a Latin word, but it is a Greek word. Sadly Octopi is now considered "a correct" plural but only because people kept using it and would not shut up and so now the dictionaries have bowed to that sad failing.

( By the way, oktopous means "eight-footed," from okto "eight" (see eight) + pous "foot.")

Uterus, on the other hand (I confirmed when I got home,) IS from Latin, so the appropriate plural is Uteri, though Uteruses is also accepted in English. You may need to know this In the event that you need to discuss more than uteruses at a time, which may not happen every day or ever in line at Safeway.

I tried to see if Uterus meant anything interesting in Latin, like "small organ that hurts" or something but no, it appears to just mean womb, which I translate as small organ that hurts. And pluralize, as needed, as uteruses.

1 comment:

Tara Finlay said...

This was my most favorite post ever.