or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, May 12, 2006

La Grammatica: La Cosa Mia

James Wolcott, in a recent piece about the National Review, wrote the following paragraph:

Derb has his own lavender laff-fest going on, prompted by notice of a play opening in New York about a gay mafiosi. He invites readers to send in examples of famous Mafia-movie dialogue being given the fey once-over, and, staggering across the transom, having risen out of the comedy graveyard where jokes go to die, come...

(He's right; the would-be jokes are painfully unfunny.)

There are three kinds of plurals in English: the standard kind in which we add an "-s" to the end of the word, the slightly archaic kind that take another, historical ending such as "-en" ("oxen"), and foreign words that maintain their own pluralizing endings (such as French "bureau"/"bureaux"). This last category is complicated by the fact that many foreign words also have genders, and these genders may or may not have different endings. Sometimes these words get naturalized at some point along their journey into English--"media" is rapidly becoming a singular word, with "medias" its plural--but sometimes they don't, and we're expected to keep track of them all. If someone's graduating, he's an alumnus, unless she's an alumna, and they're all alumni, unless they're all women, in case they're alumnae.

Such is the case with Italian "mafioso". It means "A [male] member of the Mafia", and its plural is "mafiosi". (A female member of the Mafia would be a "mafiosa", and its plural would be "mafiose".) If you're talking about one male Mafia member, it's "mafioso", not "mafiosi".

Now, would someone please tell James Wolcott this?


Blogger Bright Beak said...

The thing is, media is the plural already of medium therefore, by MY calculations, medias is a dual-plural, and not allowed by any rules of grammar! I still cannot cope with anything but formula/formulae, and was as intolerant before I took Latin! I'm quite certain there are more examples, but they are evading recall at this time ;P


Saturday, May 13, 2006 4:17:00 PM  

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