On Twitter some time ago, I had a chat with Kory Stamper and Jeremy Kahn about the plural of octopus (octopuses? octopi? octopodes?)
This prompted Jeremy to write a rhyme, Plurals of the many-footed, in which he posed the question: “Would they think us all wusses / not to embrace the octopuses?”
I responded with eight hurried lines of nonsense, reproduced here for the pleasure (or more likely pain) of posterity:
Octopodes, they swim not run,
They have a beak but not a bill.
Larger things they tend to shun,
Littler things they tend ta kill.
But what an octopus might think –
Whether singular or plural –
Is hidden in a cloud of ink
Obscuring all things cephaloneural.
Jeremy’s post links to Kory’s helpful and popular video for Merriam-Webster about the various plurals of octopus, and to an excellent Stæfcræft & Vyākarana post on the same subject.
To these I will add this useful discussion at bradshaw of the future, who notes that “usage trumps etymology every time”.
I prefer the plural octopuses, except where rhyme or rhythm warrant one of the alternatives. An adequate summary of their merits would require several paragraphs, which would be pointless given the links above: all are worth a moment of your time, if the topic interests you.
Wikipedia also has a decent, well-referenced account.
Alas, for me plural (NURSE) and neural (CURE) don’t rhyme. Do they for you, or is this deliberate imperfect rhyme?
John: It didn’t occur to me that the rhyme wouldn’t quite work in some accents. Plural and neural are a close match in mine.
Well if there is much debate let me suggest octosixpointtwoeight as a suitable, to too two decimal point, alternative
Oops let me amend my previous point and offer octothreepointonefour instead!
Octopedes are why
I prefer my octopi.
Can’t drive buses.
Which plural works?
Each has its quirks!
Octopodes. My fingers are faster than my brain.
Well done! I’d try to come up with a companion verse to yours and Jeremy’s, but I used up my monthly allotment of rhymes yesterday writing a limerick using “Cholmondeley.”
I use “octopuses” most of the time. This would, I am sure, absolutely devastate my fan club.
Jams: Ha! Trust you to further complicate matters (or mathers).
Marc: Excellent, we have almost enough for an anthology now.
Kory: I won’t say a word to your fans, just in case. Will your Cholmondeley limerick be appearing in public?
There once was a lady of Cholmondeley
Who was thought to be rather colmondeley.
But for all her perfections
she’d make no interjections:
Lady Cholmondeley met all her guests dolmondeley.
(Boy, I hope I’m pronouncing “Cholmondeley” right….)
Great job! It’s a good lead-in to a discussion of idiosyncratic pronunciations of family and place names, not only in the UK, but in the US. For example, in New Brunswick, NJ, where I was born, the largest park is named Buccleuch (buck-loo, a Scottish name). We pronounce it “Bugle-oh.” Cole Porter was born in Peru (pee-roo), Indiana; In New Mexico, we have Madrid (may-drid), and in the UK, they have Slough(rhymes with how); Saint John is sin-gin, and so it goes…
Marc: You could devote an entire career to the phonological idiosyncrasies of place and family names–or a number of careers. For my own part, I learned in four years of university in Massachusetts that “Gloucester” and “Worcester” were only two syllables a piece, locals don’t appreciate it if you pronounce “Falmouth” as “Foul Mouth,” and there’s no sounded “h” in “Amherst” (“AM-urst”) because it moved down the road and reappeared in “Northampton” (“North Hampton”). But cross the border into Vermont or Connecticut, and all those cherished phonological paradigms fall right apart.
I no longer presume on the pronunciation of any place name or family name until I hear someone else take a stab at it first.
Kory: That’s great! And not the kind of poem one could ever recite glolmondeley.
Whenever I see two of them, I just say “Look – there’s an octopus… and another one.”
We have GOT to set this to music. Let me see what I can do.
OK, here’s a rough mp3 solo voice recording. I hope you think its artistic merit is no less than that of the original poem.
Edward: I hope you don’t often meet them in large groups.
Adrian: Marvellous! Thank you very much – it’s more than the poem deserves. I was expecting a four-syllable octopodes, but the shorter form works better here.
La pauvre pieuvre.
Elle est chef-d’oeuvre
Comme on l’embusque.
Stan: I take it that means you pronounce plural and pleural the same?
Claude, c’est chouette, ça. La pauvre pieuvre en effet. J’ai vraiment de la chance de recevoir ces poèmes!
John: Yes, I think I pronounce them exactly the same.
I take it there is an implied nod back to Ogden Nash as well.
Nash’s Octopus didn’t occur to me at the time, Eimear, but he certainly deserves a mention. I’m very fond of his nonsense.
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