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Old 06-03-2010, 04:59 AM   #1
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Arggghhh - No, no, Ryk Spoor!

I'm currently reading Ryk Spoor and Eric Flint's excellent SF novel "Boundary", from Baen. I was really enjoying it up to the point at which he has a paleontologist talk about "squids and octopi".

"Optopi"?????

Pseudo-intellectualism at its worst, making up fake Latin plurals for words which are not Latin. For goodness sake, if you don't know that the correct (Greek) plural is "octopodes", then just say "octopuses". Saying "octopi" just makes you look stupid.

I'm very disappointed that a "howler" like this would get through Baen's proof-reading process.
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Old 06-03-2010, 05:02 AM   #2
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Octopi is ok.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/octopi

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/octopi

'octopi' usage in Google Books repository.

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Old 06-03-2010, 05:11 AM   #3
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Not according to both Oxford and Chambers it isn't. Chambers specifically says "octopi is wrong". The point is, it's not a Latin word; it's Greek, and therefore to try to form a Latin plural from it is just plain wrong.
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Old 06-03-2010, 05:14 AM   #4
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Merriam-Webster says it's not imported directly from Greek.
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Old 06-03-2010, 05:18 AM   #5
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Yes, Latin uses a lot of Greek words, but it kept their Greek plurals; it did not "Latinize" the plural.

(and I trust what Chambers and Oxford say on the matter.)

I suppose it's possible that this is some peculiarity of American English that it permits such "fake Latin", while British English does not.
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Old 06-03-2010, 05:33 AM   #6
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In French we have a simple rule: any word imported from a foreign language becomes a French word, and follows French rules for forming a plural (just add an s at the end). Therefore, the plural of scénario is scénarios. Simple. Though of course there are always people trying to look clever by using scenarii. Also note the accent, which I don't suppose exists in the original language (Italian I assume).

Seems much simpler and practical to me. How are we supposed to know and apply the grammatical rules of all the languages we borrow from? And, as Harry's example shows, how are we even supposed to know which language we're borrowing from?

Most words change meaning when they hop from one language to another, why should we insist that they are still foreign words? They are not, they are French (in my case), or English, words with a foreign origin.

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Old 06-03-2010, 05:36 AM   #7
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It's tricky - but the ultimate authority, in my view, is what people actually use - it's their language, and no-one has the right to restrict their use of it.
Dictionaries record usage, they don't regulate it.
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Old 06-03-2010, 05:41 AM   #8
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HarryT is quite correct of course, "octopi" is just plain wrong. It's been in common use in TV documentaries for years though and as such has gained general acceptance. A couple of decades ago it wouldn't have washed, but these days correct and incorrect means hardly anything at all - if it sounds right then it's plenty good enough, since hardly anyone will know the difference anyway.
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Old 06-03-2010, 05:41 AM   #9
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In French we have a simple rule: any word imported from a foreign language becomes a French words, and follows French rules for forming a plural (just add an s at the end). Therefore, the plural of scénario is scénarios. Simple. Though of course there are always people trying to look clever by using scenarii. Also note the accent, which I don't suppose exists in the original language (Italian I assume).

Seems much simpler and practical to me. How are we supposed to know and apply the grammatical rules of all the languages we borrow from? And, as Harry's example shows, how are we even supposed to know which language we're borrowing from?
English often permits both, Florence, eg "optopuses" is a perfectly acceptable plural for "octopus". There are some words, though, that are conventionally spelled with a Latin plural - eg, the plural of "radius" is always "radii", not "radiuses". On the other hand, the plural of "index" can be either "indexes" or "indices", and "forum" can be either "forums" or "fora".

The problem is that most English speakers are familiar with the idea that words ending is "-us" have plurals in "-i", and sometimes apply it wrongly, as in this case. Another one you often see on the internet is the horrible "virii" as a fake plural for "virus". Not only does it seem to have gained an extra "i" from some mysterious source, but the Latin word "virus" (which means "poison") doesn't actually have a plural form, so the only "correct" English plural is the normal "viruses".
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Old 06-03-2010, 05:45 AM   #10
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It's tricky - but the ultimate authority, in my view, is what people actually use - it's their language, and no-one has the right to restrict their use of it.
Dictionaries record usage, they don't regulate it.
Chambers does list common miss-spellings (as in this case) and tell you that they are wrong. Of course, anyone is free to spell any word in any way that they wish - there is no "punishment" for doing so, other than the scorn of the reader at the writer's poor grasp of the language .
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Old 06-03-2010, 05:52 AM   #11
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Chambers does list common miss-spellings (as in this case) and tell you that they are wrong. Of course, anyone is free to spell any word in any way that they wish - there is no "punishment" for doing so, other than the scorn of the reader at the writer's poor grasp of the language .
If the misspelling is intentional, then it's fine, and Chambers is wrong.

'miss-spelling' is a good example, incorporating a pun on the usual misspelling.
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Old 06-03-2010, 06:00 AM   #12
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Most words change meaning when they hop from one language to another, why should we insist that they are still foreign words? They are not, they are French (in my case), or English, words with a foreign origin.
I agree with Florence.

I imagine the task of 'correcting' English to remove bastardisations is not something anyone fancies undertaking anytime soon.
I can't think of many more pointless jobs.
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Old 06-03-2010, 06:06 AM   #13
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I imagine the task of 'correcting' English to remove bastardisations is not something anyone fancies undertaking anytime soon.
I can't think of many more pointless jobs.
It can be very frustrating for a French reader though, seeing all those French words used "wrong" in English. Of course it's not really wrong, but it feels wrong to me.
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Old 06-03-2010, 06:12 AM   #14
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It can be very frustrating for a French reader though, seeing all those French words used "wrong" in English. Of course it's not really wrong, but it feels wrong to me.
Can you give us some examples?
My ignorance of French prevents me thinking of any.
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Old 06-03-2010, 06:24 AM   #15
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Can you give us some examples?
My ignorance of French prevents me thinking of any.
Let me see if I can remember any...

Some don't feel wrong because I was taught at school that the English meaning is different from the French one. For instance, in French éventuellement means possibly (French people often use eventually in this meaning in English), but I knew from the start that the English meaning is different so it's OK.

Other words I encountered on my own, in books or movies, and in that case it often takes some time for me to get used to the slightly different meaning or usage in English. The one that bugged me for years is "to trust implicitly". In French, that expression doesn't exist. "Implicite" means "something that is implied but not said", the opposite is "explicite" (and that's another example by the way). I can see the logical link from this to "trust implicitely" but it still feels wrong to me

"Risqué" in French means risky: if you do it, you're taking a risk. Nothing more.

Can't think of more at the moment, and I think my colleagues are getting ready to go to lunch... more later, maybe
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