Linguistics is a fun subject. So are mollusks. Two great tastes that taste great together! I’d been thinking about linking to this oldish post on my favorite linguistics blog, Language Log, which gives information about how to pluralize “octopus” as well as google data-mining for usage stats. They have good, though somewhat outdated, info, and I was going to do some more digging when I saw this video from Merriam Webster, which I thought was really cute.
The really fun thing to me about that video is that I’d never considered how “octopodes” would be pronounced. It sounds so classical with the accent on the second syllable, like Diogenes and Acropolis. I’m charmed by it and almost want to use it except I’m neither British nor quite that ridiculous.
Now, of course “octopus” isn’t the only “-us” word that can be tricky to pluralize. I came up with a spectrum of these words and how much I resist the regular English plural.
sinus: “sinuses,” duh.
campus: again, “campuses” does not offend the ears.
census: not sure I’ve ever heard this pluralized, but I’m pretty sure “censuses” would be the thing to come out of my mouth, though perhaps with hesitation.
apparatus: “apparatuses” is clunky, though correct. Merriam Webster seems to think it’s also fine to leave off the plural suffix, like deer or fish.
uterus: Here’s where the urge to add the “i” at the end is strong. According to MW, uterus is actually a Latin word, so you can go with “uteri” and be technically correct. They do however, list “uteruses” as the first plural entry. In a stroke of hilarity, whatever dictionary my spell checker is pulling from recognizes uteri and not uteruses.
playtpus: Our monotreme friend the platypus is in precisely the same boat as octopus (would I ever love to see that in real life!). “Platypus” is actually a Greek word, but somehow the ersatz “platypi” plural snuck through the cracks and became common usage.
Ultimately, I prefer to just stick with the English rules of pluralization, so it’s octopuses, sinuses, censuses, apparatuses, uteruses, and platypuses for me. And platypuses for you!