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Mar 30 2012

Pluralizing “Octopus”

This keeps coming up. Follow these simple rules.

That is all.

54 comments

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  1. 1
    Glen Davidson

    How clever were the people who decided how to pluralize “deer” and “sheep”?

    Glen Davidson

  2. 2
    Blondin

    Did we ever settle the question of the singular of “cattle”?

  3. 3
    Q.E.D

    Is there a similar chart for pluralizing “hippopotamus”?

  4. 4
    chigau (違う)

    Can’t I just use “octopus”?

  5. 5
    Anthony K

    I really hope the writer is simply unfamiliar with Swahili*, and not making a “Black people speak Swahili and say ‘wack’” joke or the potentially less offensive but still bigotted “nobody knows what Swahili sounds like, so any old collection of syllables will do”.

    *The singular and plural† of octopus in Swahili is pweza. If the word was of the second noun class (people) then it would be pluralised by adding the prefix ‘wa-’, but it’s not, so unless they’re making some kind of weird ‘Swenglish’ joke, it’s nonsensical.

    †My Swahili-speaking colleague thinks the plural is mapweza, but he’s not sure, so I’m going with the Kamusi project as being more official.

  6. 6
    BrianX

    qed:

    I would nominate “hippopotamata”. It is a flagrant misuse of a Greek plural and therefore is perfect for screwing with douchecanoes.

  7. 7
    Sili

    Is there a similar chart for pluralizing “hippopotamus”?

    Are you Flanders and Swann?

    Yes: You may use “hippopotami”.

    No: “Nilpferde”, you douchecanoe.

  8. 8
    richardelguru

    And don’t forget the platypodes chum!
     
    Not to mention the antipodes.
    (unless you are Long John Silver, when you should always call them the ‘antipus’.)

  9. 9
    richardelguru

    Then there’s Long Dong Silver, god only knows what he called them.

  10. 10
    Elwood Herring

    Being a programmer, I’d have to go with “hexadecipus”.

  11. 11
    nedchamplain

    I like the sea beasties, but couldn’t it just be cuttle fishes

  12. 12
    robro

    You mean it’s not multiples of 8 as in hexadecapus if there are two, icosatetrapus if there are three, and so forth? I swear I was miseducated at that Southern Baptist college.

  13. 13
    jnorris

    One octopus = lunch seafood plate
    Two octopus = dinner seafood plate
    Three or more octopus = seafood buffet

  14. 14
    bird.is.the.word

    Brownian, that is exactly what caught my eye! My guess is that the artist does not speak swahili but googled ‘swahili plural’ or some such and was instructed to add the prefix “wa” to the word, which is what you do for people and animals (m-prefix is singular, wa=plural). In swahili, many animals have the same word for singular and plural. I recall that pweza is used for both.

  15. 15
    Fox, A Lurker

    Aww, no one remembers this xkcd? The alt text actually made me read that book (Lost Boys – Orson Scott Card), which I desperately regret because the ending is so horrifically depressing.

    “But Mrs. Jones, surely you know that the plural of “octopus” is either ‘octopus’, with nothing added, or ‘octopuses’.”
    “I think not,” said Mrs. Jones.
    “Think again, Mrs. Jones.”
    She must have realized that she was not on firm ground here. “Perhaps ‘octopuses’ is an alternate plural, but I’m sure that ‘octopi’ is the preferred.”
    “No, Mrs. Jones. If you had looked it up, you would have discovered that ‘octopi’ is not the preferred spelling. It is not a spelling at all. The word does not exist, except in the mouths of those who are pretending to be educated but in fact are not. This is because the ‘us’ ending of ‘octopus’ is not a Latin nominative singular ending, which would form its plural by changing to the letter ‘i’. Instead, the syllable ‘pus’ in ‘octopus’ is the Greek word for ‘foot.’ And it forms its plural the Greek way. Therefore ‘octopoda’, not ‘octopi’. Never ‘octopi’.”

  16. 16
    Anthony K

    I think that’s the most likely explanation, b.i.t.w. (I don’t know of any animal names that are pluralised with the wa- prefix. Do you?)

  17. 17
    Ingdigo Jump

    (Lost Boys – Orson Scott Card), which I desperately regret because the ending is so horrifically depressing.

    See I’d desperately regret it because it’s Orson Scott Card.

  18. 18
    eigenperson

    There is no plural of octopus because there is only one octopus. What appear to be individual animals are in fact independently motile fragments of a singular all-powerful entity: Phphrassa, the Great One (may It feast upon the flesh of the unworthy). To deny Its singular and indivisible nature is an affront to the Great One and is punishable by an eternity of being devoured by Its gastric juices.

  19. 19
    Anthony K

    @bird.is.the.word:

    Confirmation! From his blog:

    I also feel like maybe I should clarify what I perceive to be the game in the dorky/sophisticated outcome. The goal is not necessarily to implement pluralization as it would be done in language X by a native speaker of language X. Rather, it is to take a simple pluralization rule from language X, remove it from its native context, and implement it in English, sort of like the Krampus / Krampi thing. It’s like trying to figure out how to pluralize something in a sort of Xglish (the language-X analog of Spanglish). For example, David Winter (@TheAtavism) points out that in Maori, one octopus would be “Te wheke,” while two or more would be “Nga wheke.” I take that to imply that the appropriate Maoglish plural of “octopus” would be “ngactopus,” which is pretty fun to say.

    So he’s just having some fun with words and languages.

  20. 20
    vaina-pekkafriman

    The Finnish plural is wrong as well. It should be mustekalat, not octopust. Muste means ink and kalat is the plural of fish. So you can avoid the problem just by saying inkfishes.

  21. 21
    Nick Gotts

    Arthur C. Clarke (IIRC) wrote a short story about intelligent deep-sea cephalopods, which communicated using their chromophores. So the plural of octupus could be roseates of a certain shade of pink, on a greenish-purple background.

  22. 22
    Menyambal

    I think the bits about pluralization in other languages was done to show how the pluralization is done, not how the word is translated. (If the word had been translated, we’d not have been able to recognize the plural part. But it is confusing.)

    In Indonesian, octopus is “gurita” or even “ikan gurita” (ikan meaning “fish”, adjective following noun) and plurals are done by saying the base word twice: gurita gurita.

  23. 23
    felixhafner

    Going to be a douche-canoe here and correct the German plural. “Octopusen” is completely wrong and would fit better with the juvenile answer because it sounds sorta like “Octo-tits” in German. Actually, thinking about it, I have a hard time pluralizing Oktopus in German. Duden (German “standard” dictionary) gives Oktopoden, which is certainly correct, but boring. I myself am partial to “Oktopüsse” which is completely wrong but I like the sound.

  24. 24
    cicely

    CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.
    -

  25. 25
    cicely

    Alternatively, octopoodles.
    ;)
    -

  26. 26
    pianisti

    The correct Finnish plural would be octopus -> octopussit, if you think octopus as a Finnish word. And octopussit would translate octobags (or maybe octonuts..)

  27. 27
    'Tis Himself

    I have always maintained that the plural of mongoose is polygoose.

  28. 28
    Sili

    I have always maintained that the plural of mongoose is polygoose.

    No, it’s notregoose.

  29. 29
    Inaji

    KG:

    octupus

    Are you sure that ^ isn’t the plural of octopus?

  30. 30
    Inaji

    So…what would the collective noun for octopus be?

  31. 31
    Anthony K

    So…what would the collective noun for octopus be?

    Given the ink spilled on the subject of the plural, I’d say it would be a dictionary of octopodes.

  32. 32
    Nick Gotts

    A writhe of octopus.

  33. 33
    Inaji

    Brownian:

    Given the ink spilled on the subject of the plural, I’d say it would be a dictionary of octopodes.

    Or perhaps a pixellation of octopodes.

  34. 34
    matthewgill

    I’m only a ‘douchecanoe’ if someone else decides to correct me for saying octopusses. That’s when I pull out the octipodes.

  35. 35
    Inaji

    KG:

    A writhe of octopus.

    I like that.

    A dance of octopus.

  36. 36
    Anthony K

    Or perhaps a pixellation of octopodes.

    Maybe we need to think more about the demographic that would be interested in producing this answer.

    A comicon of octopodes?
    A languagelog of octopodes?

  37. 37
    Inaji

    A nerd of octopodes?
    A node of octopodes?

    Rethinking, I like A pixellation of octopi better.

  38. 38
    Forbidden Snowflake

    A douchecanoe of octopodes.

  39. 39
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    octopuddles

  40. 40
    Inaji

    Alethea:

    octopuddles

    +8

  41. 41
    Pan

    So…what would the collective noun for octopus be?

    A shelf of octopedia.

  42. 42
    Chris A

    @Sili

    No, it’s notregoose.

    Funny, notyourgoose is something my wife might say as I have a gander

  43. 43
    Chris A

    And back to the ink thing, I like a cloud of octopus.

  44. 44
    Inaji

    Chris A:

    And back to the ink thing

    Hmmm. An escape of octopus. A velocity of octopus.

  45. 45
    Chris A

    Oooh, escape is good. But it seems awful wussy for such clever creatures — how about a solution of octopus? Maybe too chemical. I know it is regarding a problem not a solvent, but… A brilliance of octopus?

  46. 46
    Inaji

    Chris A:

    Oooh, escape is good. But it seems awful wussy for such clever creatures —

    Oh, I don’t think it’s wussy at all. Having a handy way to confuse predators and enable a fast getaway is a good thing. Much better than being eaten.

    how about a solution of octopus? Maybe too chemical.

    Heh. Given octopus talent in problem solving (how to get that tasty morsel which is locked up, etc.), that’s a good one.

    A brilliance of octopus?

    That’s a given. :D

  47. 47
    DLC

    A tangle of Octopods.

  48. 48
    Sili

    A dance of octopus.

    No. “Of” takes the dative, so it must be “a dance of octope”.

  49. 49
    julietdefarge

    Could we please stop using the word “douche” as an insult? Healthy women do not need to douche, and it’s a shame that our mothers’ generation fell prey to this marketing of shame. Convincing them that they were “dirty” can be traced back to the rituals of ancient Judaism.
    Ditto the word “pussy.” If you don’t like vulvas, so be it, but don’t use body parts as insults.

  50. 50
    colonelzen

    Just a mildly bizarre encounter from my web wanderings that I thought our host might find interesting:

    http://blog.makezine.com/2012/03/29/how-to-extract-and-use-squid-ink/

    – TWZ

  51. 51
    Sili

    julietdefarge

    Could we please stop using the word “douche” as an insult? Healthy women do not need to douche, and it’s a shame that our mothers’ generation fell prey to this marketing of shame.

    That’s rather the point of using it as an insult: It’s useless and it harms women. All in all not something you want to be.

    As for “pussy”, you’re among friends.

    But notice that in “octopussies” it’s not use as an insult, but as prurient humour.

  52. 52
    Ichthyic

    It’s just like fish.

    Octopus is the plural for one, or many of the same kind.

    Octopuses for a collection of different kinds.

    There are 4 blue ring octopus in that tidepool.

    There are several different octopuses in that tidepool.

  53. 53
    sapphire

    Dear Sir, Please send me 2 octopi er octopusses er octopodes er
    Damn it
    Dear Sir, Please send me an octopus.
    PS make that two.

  54. 54
    janrubsam

    German one wrong,too. It would need to be Oktopusse but we Germans are more clever linguistically and simply do not use those pesky greco-roman for everyday language. We even have nice German names for all those zoological terms, names every child understands. Octopus, which would need to be declinated and Latin noun declination in English sentences just looks silly, translates as Krake with plural -n –> Kraken. Cephalopoda translate quite literally as Kopffüssler.

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