Thought Repository

Anguished English


I feel I have a very strong connection to the English language. I often, especially when writing, consider very carefully the logical and symantic intricacies of turning thoughts into English words and phrases. I think one of the reasons that foreign languages are so hard for me is that the simple sentences I could learn to use do not compare to the very high level concepts and subtle distictions I can express in English. That's why I thought I'd point out a few of the things I've found interesting about English, common mistakes people make, and some helpful websites.

Back when I was in Stage3, we had an argument at one meeting about what the correct plural of octopus is. At the next meeting Dennis had done some research and provided us with the answer. While many people think that octopi is the plural, this is in fact the most incorrect answer. As we all know, the standard plural in Enlish involves adding s at the end. Of course, many words in English are inherited from other languages which lead to all the exceptions to this rule where the plural is also inherited. Latin is the source of many English words and there are some, like fungus, where the -us ending is pluralized as -i. Octopus is not one of them. Latin nouns are seperated into 5 groups, called declensions, which have different endings and different plurals. The rule above that we are most familar with is the rule for 2nd declension, but Octopus, originally from Greek origin, is a 3rd declesion noun in Latin. The correct Latin plural would be Octopodes (not pronounced how it looks). There are many words in English, while originally from other languages, that we commonly pluralize like English without even realizing it. The most correct plural of octopus would be octopuses since the true Latin plural is arcane and even marine biologists would not use it.

Pluralization can be a tricky subject. A lot of the problems people have come from not knowing the latin root or the very abitrary way that some words have kept their native plurals and many have not. While I can't think of a good example now, one thing to watch out for is pluralizing an exclusively modern English word as if it were from a Latin root. Although not exactly the same thing, one interesting case is the word antenna. Refering to a part of a bug the plural is antennae, but on a radio or cell phone, a definition never intended by the Romans, the prefered plural is the English antennas. When I was doing some research I found a great article about the subject, "What is the plural of 'penis'?". It is fairly lengthy and covers many different groups of words that can be confusing. It should be very interesting, especially to those of you who were Latin scholars in high school. Two good sites for researching word and grammar issues are the Columbia Guide to Standard English and Ask Oxford.

People often complain that flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. For a long time I thought they didn't. In my attempt to find subtle distinction, I decided that in- was the prefix meaning the negetive, in which case inflammable would mean something that you aren't supposed to set fire to (because it will burn) as opposed to flammable which simply means it will burn. In my world, a match is flammable but not inflammable. The prefix actually has to do with the word inflame where it means into. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time I've made this mistake.

I have developed a strong dislike for the non-word irregardless. Originally I believed that the irr- prefix was peoples mistaken attempt to negate ("without") a word that was already negetive (due to the -less suffix). Of course later I realized that it was actually just a combination of 2 words that mean the same thing. In that case, I should actually like the word because I enjoy the accidental joining of 2 words that mean the same thing when I speak fast and don't pick one or the other in time. The key here is accidental. My main distaste is not for the word itself but for people who insist on claiming that it is a valid word. It may be in the dictionary and be considered a real word (if new) only because people use it, but that doesn't mean it is correct or ok to use. It is a sign of ignorance.

Another thing that bugs me is people who use the British spelling of theatre because they think it looks more artistic than the American spelling. When you're in this country you should spell things our way. To that end, I recently found out that the difference between grey and gray is that the former is the British spelling and the latter the American.

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