From One to Tentacle

I was reminded at a recent family dinner of this fact:

The plural of "octopus" is not "octopi".

I've written before about how having Apple's Dictionary app on my laptop's "dock" has made consulting it something of an addiction. While I don't strain to think of things to look up merely to give it a workout, the fact that it's so handy and that it searches not only The New Oxford English Dictionary but The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, Apple's tech dictionary, and Wikipedia (if you're connected to the Internet) means that I do look up more than I need to — and I practically itch to get at it if a question that it could answer pops into my head away from the computer. Just as some folks can't wait to hit Google to confirm an elusive song lyric or find out where else they've seen a familiar face from TV, I waste no time punching open Dictionary to settle a usage question, look up an apt synonym, or save me from devoting far too much brainpower to recalling some piece of pop trivia (which is where the Wikipedia results really come in handy; for all the deserved caveats, it seems well-policed enough that most birth dates, discographies, etc. are reliable).

Image credited to "NURC/UNCW and NOAA/FGBNMS" at the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Photo Library website.

How or why I was prompted to first look up "octopus" I don't recall, but the revelation of its plural was stunning to me at the time and to my family at dinner Monday night. I knew that it was perfectly kosher to form the plural "octopuses" based on the rules of standard English, yes; I had no idea that this plural was preferred, however, since the frequently heard "octopi" is an erroneous construct stemming from the mistaken assumption that the root word is Latin when in fact it is taken from the Greek "oktopous". The natively based plural of "octopus" is therefore, like the plural of the order Octopoda that comprises octopuses and other varieties of cephalopod mollusks, "octopodes" (pronounced not "ahk-tuh-pohdz" but "ahk-tah-puh-deez").

The plural of "garden" remains "gardens".


Arben said...

So if Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus, cloned himself, he would become Octavii yet Doctors Octopodes?

Blam said...


"You have sixteen arms / And what do you get? ..."