9 Extremely Pretentious Latin and Greek Plurals

ThinkStock
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?

Celebrate the Encyclopedia Britannica's 250th Birthday by Checking Out Its First Edition Online

Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Mario Tama/Getty Images

While those gold-embossed, multi-volume sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica were a feature of many an American childhood, the origins of the venerable reference work actually lie in Scotland. Two hundred and fifty years ago—on December 10, 1768—the first pages of the Britannica were published in Edinburgh. To celebrate the anniversary, the National Library of Scotland has put a rare first edition of the encyclopedia online.

The first edition was the brainchild of printer Colin Macfarquhar, engraver Andrew Bell, and the editor William Smellie. It was published in 100 weekly sections over three volumes (completed in 1771), but explicit engravings of midwifery scandalized some subscribers, and were ripped out on the orders of the Crown. The entries of the first edition—some of which ran to hundreds of pages—reflect the biases and preoccupations of their time: woman is defined as "the female of a man," while there are 39 pages devoted to horse diseases. Nevertheless, the work was a significant accomplishment that drew on at least 150 sources, from essays by famous philosophers to newspaper articles. It also featured 160 copperplate engravings by Bell.

The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

In a statement from the National Library of Scotland, Rare Books Curator Robert Betteridge said, "By the 20th century Britannica was a household name throughout the English-speaking world, and what is especially interesting about this publication was that it had a distinctly Scottish viewpoint. The first edition emphasized two themes—modern science and Scottish identity, including ground-breaking and controversial articles on anatomy and Scots Law."

The first edition (which includes those ripped-out midwifery pages) will appear as part of an exhibit on the Scottish Enlightenment at the National Library of Scotland this summer. For now, you can view all three volumes of the first edition, from "A—the name of several rivers" to Zygophyllum, a genus in botany—online here.

[h/t American Libraries]

Guess the 100-Year-Old Word or Phrase

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER