Dictionaries and Eternal Nuances of Pluralization: Octopus

In Nerdfighteria, a virtual land where nerds that have taken a liking to John and Hank Green’s vlog community, people refer to angry, YouTube comments as angry–squids? Octopuses? Octopi? Am I remembering this right?

The important factor to keep in mind is that even if I go back to earlier vlogs when John addressed trolls in the comment section as some sort of angry cephalopod, I’d prolong the inevitable: what is the correct plural of octopus and why?

I love dictionaries. When I read anything that has rich enough vocabulary, I have to keep a dictionary at my side. However, I’m sorry, but Oxford dictionaries have quantifiable failures.

My older Merriam-Webster dictionary has helped me through Cosmos by Carl Sagan, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, Song of the Dodo by David Quammen. But my new Oxford replacement often didn’t have the word I needed. Rarely, it had one the other dictionary had. But it never had a word Merriam-Webster didn’t. Even going back a generation, my mom’s experience with pocket dictionaries and comments from a teacher growing up, Oxford didn’t have words that people didn’t already know.

That’s merely a story I wanted to share. After all, these days pocket dictionaries are just for when you want to read and don’t want to check something on a screen like you do all day already.

Incidentally, I found a convenient video made by Merriam-Webster addressing the eight-legged problem:


Words have different correct plural depending on their origin and which languages they’ve been officially adopted into. Octopus is Greek, so octopodes are one correct option. Octopuses are officially correct for English. Octopi is born from coincidence and confusion because “-us” is a common suffix in Latin, even though the real word has -pus as the suffix, meaning foot. No matter how words can sound similar or look like something from another language, they are not that other language. There’s no logic nor grammatical accuracy to apply one language’s rules to another.

Sorry, I like Latin too, but it doesn’t have a place here. Greek words are used a lot in science just like Latin–use Greek plural if you want the sophisticated appeal of Latin.

And it turns out that John was referring to squids.

other language, it does not make that word from that other language–no matter how the Greek octopus looks like it should be Latin because the similar use of suffix letters, it is not Latin and cannot apply to Latin grammatical rules.


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