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A fuss about the octopus

Another invitation to contribute to questions studied by the Bridging the Unbridgeable project at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2015

Extract

The octopus is an animal which has served the BBC well as a topic for news reports, the main ingredient of exotic recipes, and as a worthy subject for usage advice:

The octopuses use the coconuts as a shelter.

Octopi live longer than squid, making them tougher and therefore a bit more tricky to prepare.

The plural of octopus is not, as recorded in last week's 10 Things, octopi, which would suggest the word was rooted in Latin. In fact the word comes from the Greek, so the correct plural is octopuses or even octopodes.

Besides showing that the BBC at times seems to give self-contradictory advice, the quotations suggest that the word octopus has three possible plurals in English: octopuses, octopi, and octopodes. To descriptivists, using any of the three forms is equally correct – to prescriptivists, at least some of the plurals are better than others.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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References

1 These quotations stem from three articles published online by the BBC: Morelle's ‘Octopus snatches coconut and runs’ (2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8408233.stm), ‘Octopus recipes’ (?2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/octopus), and Cooke's ‘10 things we didn't know this time last week’ (2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/3841167.stm).

2 British National Corpus: http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/; Corpus of Historical American English: http://corpus.byu.edu/coha/; Corpus of Contemporary American English: http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/.

3 MER: www.merriam-webster.com, consulted 1 August 2014; OED Online: www.oed.com.

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