I am a word nut. I love words. I live for words. I’m not too proud to say that I’m quite proud of my knowledge of many things linguistic. Etymology included. So I used to tell anyone and everyone who’d listen that the plural of octopus, given that we’ve used Greek elements to build the word, is octopodes.
I just happen to have a brand-spanking new Macquarie Fifth Edition Dictionary. It’s lovely; a thing of beauty. How to christen it? The first word I looked up had to be special. So I picked my favourite: haplology. Only to be a little disappointed by the definition:
haplology noun the syncope of a syllable within a word, as syllabi(fi)cation.
Succinct, sure, and an adequate definition. But it’s hardly accessible for those who haven’t studied linguistics (which, by last count, was all but three of my friends), who would then have to look up syncope:
syncope noun 1. Phonetics the contraction of a word by omitting one or more sounds from the middle, as in the reduction of never to ne’er.
So there you go. A less than perfect experience to christen the dictionary.
I digress. Something you’ll have to get used to if you’re going to accompany me on this blog journey. The fifth word I decided to look up was octopus, planning to photograph the definition and show the evidence to anyone who doubted me.
octopus noun (plural octopuses or octopi) 1. any animal of the genus Octopus… yada yada yada.
No! No, no, no, no, no. How can this be? Surely not! Scanning down, I read:
Usage: The ending -pus is a Latinised form of Greek pous ‘foot’, the plural of which is podes. Thus there is no etymological justification for the plural octopi, though this form is sometimes used.
Ah, a little bit of dignity restored. But not enough. I recall in shame the years of informing people, smugly, that the plural of octopus is octopodes. Time to look up my next word:
humble pie phrase eat humble pie, to be humiliated; be forced to apologise humbly.