One to Tentacle

The plural of “octopus” is not, I was reminded at a recent family gathering, “octopi”.

octopus on the ocean floor
Image via National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Photo Library

I’ve written before about how consulting the Dictionary app in my laptop’s “dock”
has become a slight addiction. While I don’t mull over things to look up merely to give
it some exercise, the fact that it’s so handy and that it searches not only The New Oxford English Dictionary but The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Apple’s tech dictionary, and Wikipedia (at least if you’re connected to the Internet) means that I do look up more than I need to — and I practically itch to get at it when a question that it could answer pops into my head away from the computer.

Just as many folks can’t wait to hit Google to confirm an elusive song lyric or find
out where else they’ve seen a familiar face from TV, I waste no time punching open Dictionary to settle a usage question, look up an apt synonym, or save me from devoting far too much brainpower to recalling some piece of pop trivia (which is where the Wikipedia results really come in handy; for all the deserved caveats, it seems well-policed enough that most birth dates, discographies, etc. are reliable).

Why I was prompted to first look up “octopus” I don’t recall, but the revelation of its plural was stunning to me then and to my family at dinner Monday night. I did know that it was perfectly fine to form the plural “octopuses” based on the rules of standard English. I had no idea that this plural was preferred, however, since the frequently heard “octopi” is an erroneous construct stemming from the mistaken assumption that the root word is Latin when in fact it is taken from the Greek ”oktopous”. The natively based plural of “octopus” is therefore “octopodes” (pronounced not “ahk-tuh-podz”
but “ahk-top-uh-deez”).

The plural of “garden” remains “gardens”.

Related: In Translation Words to the Wise Not Above a Book


  1. So if Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus, cloned himself, he would become Octavii yet Doctors Octopodes?


  2. ...

    "You have sixteen arms / And what do you get? ..."