9 Extremely Pretentious Latin and Greek Plurals

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ThinkStock

English is full of irregular plural forms based on Latin and Greek. They can be confusing (apparatus? apparati? apparatuses?). They can be fun (the brothers Winklevii! and the flying Elvii! all cleaning their Prii! with Kleenices!). And they can be weapons of petty pedantry ("um, I think you meant to say the data are interesting…").

Here are some uncommon but etymologically sound plurals that you may employ for petty pedantry at your own risk. You are better off using them in the fun way, though they are most likely to be received as confusing.

1. Octopodes

There is something about the normal plural "octopuses" that just feels wrong, even though it is correct English. This why those concerned with giving the word the proper weighty scientific ring usually turn to octopi. If you want to one-up the octopi people, point out that the pus in octopus comes from the Greek pous for foot, and not the Latin second declension masculine ending, making octopodes the correct form. They will surely love you for it. (You may also use this strategy for platypodes.)

2. Rhinocerotes

Does the reasonable "rhinoceroses" sound unreasonable to you? You might be tempted toward rhinoceroi or rhinoceri, but the ancient Greek pedigree of the word commands us to use rhinocerotes, the use of which was considered annoyingly show-offy even in the classic-crazy 1800s. So … it's perfect!

3. Climaces

This Greek plural form for climax is usually found in discussions that also use the Greek meaning of the word—ladder. But it did get a bit of use in the 1800s in fancy writing about literary, musical, and dramatic climaces and anti-climaces. It was also used in the 1940s and 50s Kinsey reports on sexual behavior in reference to "multiple climaces."

4. Chrysalides

You may not have many occasions to talk about more than one chrysalis, but keep the word chrysalides in your pocket for when you do. Also, amaryllides.

5. Cyclopes

You probably have even less of a chance to speak of more than one Cyclops, so you will have to create the occasion yourself. "You should be a Cyclops for Halloween too! We'll make the cutest pair of Cyclopes!"

6. Enemata

You may know that in the plural, stigma becomes stigmata and schema becomes schemata, but this pattern also properly applies in the making of plurals that almost no one ever uses. Why say enemas when the rules of classical Greek pluralizing let you say enemata instead? It's so much classier! Also, enigmata, aromata, glaucomata, and miasmata.

7. Onera

Onus is already a pretty fancy Latin word for a burden or obligation. The plural is onera. If your mom says the onus is on you to keep your grades up and keep your room clean, tell her you will accept these onera for a slightly bigger allowance. She will be so impressed that she just might give it to you.

8. Stadia

If you visit a football stadium and a baseball stadium, you have visited two stadia. Sports fans are very impressed when you tell them about all the stadia you have visited.

9. Sittybae

There's a moment at the beginning of every college course where the professor must decide whether to pass out the syllabuses or the syllabi. You can help by pointing out that according to the Oxford English Dictionary the word syllabus is derived from a misreading of the Greek sittyba, so the plural should actually be sittybae. Then help pass around the sittybae, confident in your new role as the most popular kid in the class. Right?

The One Letter in the Alphabet That Can't Be Silent

Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images
Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images

The English language can be baffling at times—just look to words like phlegm, receipt, and chthonic for proof. Silent letters are unavoidable. Almost every word in the alphabet is occasionally guilty of taking up space without contributing anything, but there is one exception. According to Merriam-Webster, V is the only letter in English that consistently makes itself heard.

No matter where it appears, whether it's in love, voice, or divisive, V plays a vital role. Most letters are phonetic chameleons: That's why the C sounds different in cat and city, and why the g sounds like nothing at all in gnash. V is unique in that it never goes through an identity crisis.

There are a few letters that rival V's special status. Z is only silent in words we borrowed from the French, like chez, laissez-faire, and rendezvous. The one silent J in the entire English language appears in marijuana, a term of Spanish origin. But even accounting for words we've adopted from other tongues, there's not one example of a silent V in the English dictionary.

The prevalence of silent letters is just one frustrating aspect of our language. Here are a few more obstacles foreign speakers must encounter when learning English.

Presidents Day vs. President's Day vs. Presidents' Day: Which One Is It?

welcomia/iStock via Getty Images
welcomia/iStock via Getty Images

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" implies that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the more than 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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