Wednesday, November 28, 2007

But Never Octopussy...

We liked this entry today from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

Hypercorrection (1). Sometimes people strive to abide by the strictest etiquette, but in the process behave inappropriately. The same motivations can play havoc with language: a person will strive for a correct linguistic form but instead fall into error. Linguists call this phenomenon "hypercorrection" -- a common shortcoming. In the coming tips we'll look at some ways this happens.

Part A: False Latin Plurals. One with a smattering of Latin learns that in that language, most nouns ending in "us" have a plural ending in "i," so "fungus" forms "fungi." The trouble is that not all "us" words do end in "i," and traps abound for those trying to show off their sketchy knowledge. (Besides, the plain English plural is usually better anyway.)

So the true Latin plural of "apparatus" is "apparatus," not "apparati" (but prefer "apparatuses"); and the Latin plural of "prospectus" is "prospectus," not "prospecti" (prefer "prospectuses"). Some trip over the "um" neuter nouns: the Latin plural of "forum" is "fora," not "fori" (prefer "forums"). Some "us" words now used as nouns were always verbs in Latin: "ignoramus" never formed a plural "ignorami," and as an English formation the plural is "ignoramuses." And some Greek words are mistaken for Latin ones: the Greek plural of "octopus" is "octopodes," not "octopi" (prefer "octopuses").

Interestingly, if you search on Google, you will find more than 358,000 references to "octopi," 348,000 for "octopuses," and a mere 21,700 for "octopodes."

"Octopussy," the Bond movie, generates 116,000 results. Not too bad, for a creepy single-entendre.

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