Words to the Wise
Welcome to a new feature, Words for the Wise! Here I will weekly be exploring a fun/nerdy/skeptical/awesome word or feature of words. While this is not directly related to skepchickism, it’s always good for a skeptic to have a good understanding of language and a broad vocabulary. And I like words, so I’m going to write about it! Huzzah!
So for today, we’re going to talk about unexpected and antiquated plurals.
First is my favorite word EVER. We’re getting into the realm of cephalopods, which is 100% related to skepticism since for some reason skeptics seem to really like cephalopods (see P.Z. Myers). So as a linguistic freak, I get rather annoyed when people improperly pluralize my favorite animal, the great, graceful and intelligent octopus. Now the Merriam Webster Dictionary tells you that the plural of octopus is either octopuses or octopi. But don’t be fooled my dear friends. The Merriam Webster Dictionary is a liar. The word octopus is actually from a Greek root (knowledge I acquired thanks to my classics professor), oktpous. There is a New Latin root, but originally it came from the Greek. In Greek, the ending pous pluralizes to podes. Therefore the plural of octopus based upon its true root is octopodes. So in the future when you’re in an important discussion about the ocean’s most majestic animal, you can show up your friends and family by using the plural octopodes.
And now moving to a more mundane example, let’s thinks about a cow. Now I don’t doubt that all of you know the plural of cow. Let’s just pluralize by adding an s. Normal. Easy. Aaah, that’s what you think. At one point in time there were TWO plurals to cow. In fact, the alternative plural of cow is the only plural that shares no letters with its singular. And that gets me all word excited (plus it’s a delightful riddle). In the Norman invasion of 1066, Old English got a whooole new look. Particularly, there was an influx of French and Latin into the genteel speech of the aristocracy. In comparison, Old English was almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon roots. Cows comes from this French influx, the strong plural of Middle English that continued into Modern English. But cow’s other plural…kine comes from the Old English, which in Middle English was a weaker plural and has survived in VERY few plurals (children, oxen, brethren). So if you ever feel like speaking or writing in antiquated English, speakest thou about thine kine.
Let me know what you think of this feature! I’m crazy excited, I love words. Also, if there’s anything you want me to talk about, just drop a comment.