Classical Words on Youtube

One of the logos of Merriam–Webster.
Image via Wikipedia

Well, today my twitterfeed and Facebook feed has been inundated with this video on the plural of octopus (tip o’ the pileus to Terrence Lockyer, Francesca Tronchin, and a few others):

… fwiw, being a Classicist, rogue or otherwise, using octopodes is one of the few times you get to use your Greek plural endings in public, so that’s what I do.  And just so you don’t have to just blindly believe an editor at Merriam-Webster, here’s amicus noster Terrence Lockyer’s comments on matters similar brought up on the Classics list a year and a half ago, inter alia:

People will tell you that this should be “octopi”,
because it is from Latin, and Latin words ending “-us”
are pluralized in “-i”. This, however, ignores two
facts: (1) in Latin, common words ending “-us” may
belong to one of three different classes (called
declensions), and while it is true that the most common
class (the second declension masculine) pluralizes in
“-i”, the others simply do not – the second class
(third declension neuter) pluralizes in “-ra” (e. g.,
“opus > opera” [work], “corpus > corpora” [body], to
mention two words adopted by English), while the third
class has plurals spelled with “-us” like the
singulars, though pronounced slightly differently; and
(2) “octopus” is not originally a Latin word at all,
and does not belong to any Latin class.

In fact, “octopus” comes from ancient Greek (where it
could mean an eight-legged thing, specifically an
octopus, or a scorpion), and contains the elements
“octo” (eight) and “pous” (foot, leg: this is also
found in the famous name “Oedipus”, from Greek
“Oidipous”, but it is less common to pluralize personal
names; and the Latin equivalent is the word “pes”,
plural “pedes”, from which English gets words like
“pedal” and “pedestrian”). The hyperpedantic who wish
to pluralize “octopus” strictly according to derivation
should therefore use the correct Greek plural, which
would be “octopodes” (pronounced “ok-top-odd-es”), or
in English perhaps “octopods”. For the rest of us,
“octopuses” will do just fine.

That said, it has just come to my attention that this ‘ask the editor’ thing is an ongoing series from the fine folks at Merriam-Webster and there are a couple of others worth taking a look at. This one, ferinstance, looks at the Classical Roots of some English words:

Here’s one  that’s another one of my personal bugbears (and I don’t have any qualms about correcting folks):

Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s