9 Extremely Pretentious Latin and Greek Plurals


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?

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language


English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members


The words we use for family members in English are specific about some things, and vague about others. Our vocabulary marks a distinction between our mother and her sisters (some languages use one word for mother and maternal aunts), but doesn't say whether siblings are older or younger (some languages have different words for brother and sister depending on their age relative to you). We lack words that pick out particular family members (we have cousin, but what about child-of-my-father's-brother?) as well as certain general terms (we have siblings for brothers-and-sisters, but what about nieces-and-nephews?)

If you look hard enough, you can find some words to help fill in the gaps. Here are 11 unusual English kinship words for family members.

1. Patruel

This one means "child of your paternal uncle." Also, a child of your own brother. It hasn't gotten a lot of use in the past few centuries, but it was once convenient to have a term for this relationship because it factored into royal succession considerations. The first citation for it in the OED, from 1538, reads, "Efter his patruell deid withoutin contradictioun he wes king."

2. Avuncle

Your mother's brother. Latin distinguished between patruus, father's brother, and avunculus, mother's brother. (There was also amita, father's sister, and matertera, mother's sister.) It's the root of the word avuncular, meaning "having to do with uncles" or "uncle-like" (i.e., kind and friendly, like an uncle). You won't find the word avuncle in the dictionary, but it has been used in anthropology texts and in papers concerning royal matters.

3. Niblings

Your nieces and nephews. You won't find this in the dictionary either, but use of this term seems to be growing among favorite aunts and uncles who want an easy way to refer to their little bundles of sibling-provided joy in a collective or gender-neutral way.

4. Fadu

Your father's sister. Latin amita covers this relationship, but we don't have to reach that far back to find an English equivalent. Old English made a distinction between aunts and uncles depending on whether they were maternal or paternal. We lost all that when we borrowed the more general aunt and uncle from French.

5. Modrige

"Your mother's sister," from Old English.

6. Fœdra

"Your father's brother," from Old English.

7. Eam

Your mother's brother. It survived in some dialects as eme, with a more general meaning of uncle or friend, into the 19th century.

8. Brother-uterine

Your half-brother from the same mother. This is a term used in old legal documents or other discussions of inheritance and succession. Half-siblings of the same mother are uterine and of the same father are consanguine.

9. Brother-german

Full brother, sharing both parents. Nothing to do with Germany. The german here is related to germane, which originally meant "of the same parents" and later came to mean just related or relevant.

10. Double cousin

Full first cousin, sharing all four grandparents. This comes about when a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, among other circumstances.

11. Machetonim

The parents of your child's spouse. Your child's in-laws. Ok, this is a Yiddish word, but one that, like a lot of Yiddish words, has poked its way into English because it fills a gap. When it comes to marriage, this can be a very important relationship, so it’s good to have a word for it. If your parents get along with their machetonim, the family—the whole mishpocheh—will be happier.

This story was republished in 2019.