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, essentially a land of socially-conscientious nerds, come together and refer to angry, YouTube comments as angry–squids? Octopuses? Octopi? Am I remembering this right?

The important factor to keep in mind 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–particularly the ones that include bits of etymology. As much as I hate to say this, I also love Merriam-Webster dictionaries, because when I read anything that has rich enough vocabulary that I have to keep a dictionary at my side and constantly refer to it–I’m sorry, but Oxford dictionaries have quantifiable failures.

The sheer number of times my older, but same-sized pocket Merriam-Webster dictionary helped me though Cosmos by Carl Sagan, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, Song of the Dodo by David Quammen and so many others, but my intended new replacement by Oxford either didn’t have the word or rarely had one the other dictionary had–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 doesn’t have words that people don’t already know. It’d be interesting to compare word selections sometime if I haven’t already burned it as a symbolic, “I’d never burn a book, but I’ll make an exception for you.”

But 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 is one correct option. Octopuses is 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 similar words can sound or look like something from an another language they are not that other language, and there’s no logic or grammatical accuracy to apply an irrelevant language’s rules on another.

Sorry, I like Latin too, but it doesn’t have a place here. Greek words are used a lot in science–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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