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Regularize your plurals [Apr. 23rd, 2004|11:28 pm]
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Bill Poser has an entry at Language Log discussing creative pluralizations of borrowings from a foreign language with which the writer seems to have just a passing acquaintance. This is actually a fairly common phenomenon, often observed in plural terms of Latin ancestry. The example that Bill discusses, rectii, appears in a review of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, by the chef of St. John restaurant in London. Of course, as a famous philosopher once said, there are no rectii (recta would be the proper Latin plural). Sometimes, the all-purpose Latin plural marker -i gets attached to words that are not even of Latin origin, which I suppose is how we ended up with octopi (which has Greek etymology). But the trend is not limited to Latin and Greek. I'm reminded of this example from Cook's Illustrated (I wonder if this crops up in the world of food writing more often?):

We made panna cotti with nine extracts... and gathered eighteen tasters.


where the writer clearly got a whiff of plural formation in Italian, just not enough of a whiff to form the plural of feminine nouns and adjectives.

I don't bring this up to be fastidious, which I can be. I bring it up because the writer is clearly shunning the rules of plural formation with which both he and his audience are familiar in favor of ostensibly more scholarly and therefore more impressive forms. If you want to brandish your scholarship, then go ahead (we all like to at one point or another), but first make sure that you possess it. In the meantime, plain old English plural formation1 will do just fine. There's nothing shameful about curriculums or panna cottas or forums or octopuses. And sure enough, there's nothing shameful about rectums.

Incidentally, I visited St. John restaurant when I was last in London, but I did not order any recta. The chitterlings, however, were delicious.

1But not plain Old English plural formation because that would only make matters worse.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ayun
2004-04-24 07:07 pm (UTC)

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We discussed this a little in my class last week when covering lexical borrowing. My notes are: "Foreign-sounding words get foreing-sounding word endings, even if they're wrong, from assholes."
From: (Anonymous)
2004-04-25 04:38 pm (UTC)

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See this Glosses.net thread for some excellent commentary on the subject:
http://glosses.net/archives/000284.php

language hat (http://languagehat.com/)
From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-26 06:54 am (UTC)

the writer

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What does that writer know anyway.
He is just making things up as he goes along.
anna@www.azerivista.com
From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-28 07:23 am (UTC)

Crafty Green Poet

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reminds me of the discussions amongst poets about whether to pluralise haiku, which has no plural in the original Japanese. Are they being pedantic or not?