Academics in Real Life: Octopuses
Applicable Academics with Annie
School Outside of School
A New Free Press Column (Title Yet to be Determined) by Teen Editor Annie Shao
by Annie Shao, age 17
The other day, as I do almost everyday, I walked into my calculus class. A student wrote on the whiteboard “What is the plural of octopus?” Immediately, the whole class discussed this noisily. “It’s octopi, definitely,” or “it might be octopuses, but octopi sounds right” could be heard.
I felt pretty knowledgeable about this subject because of my newspaper job. So, I interjected. “No,” I said, “The actual plural in English is octopuses.”
Coincidentally, the Simpson Street Free Press recently published a sidebar commenting on this same grammatical dispute.
It’s surprising sometimes how much you can pick up working in a newsroom. The word octopus is from Greek; the proper Greek plural is octopodes, but in English it is octopuses. The false word octopi came into existence when English speakers believed wrongly that the word was Latinate (from Latin).
And actually, even this is now changing. Because so many people believe “octopi” to be correct, and so few people know that octopus is actually Greek, both octopuses and octopi are today considered acceptable plurals in the English language.
So the answer to my classmate’s question is this: the proper plural is octopuses, but because so many people made the mistake of saying octopi and no one corrected them, either word is now grammatically correct.
While you are speaking English, it doesn’t really matter whether you use octopuses or octopi, you will be grammatically correct either way. But I think I will use the word octopodes from now on, out of respect for the word’s Greek origins.