or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, November 03, 2008

O Well

To start with, here's a piece from Pharyngula about a clever and bored laboratory octopus who learned, among other things, how to turn off the high-powered overhead light that was bothering him. (He climbed to the top of his tank and shot a big jet of water at it, shorting it out.) Octopuses are smart: it's not right to keep them in a tank with no entertainment, not that he didn't attempt to make his own kind of entertainment by, among other things, juggling hermit crabs. What could an eight-armed juggler do? What couldn't he?

Anyway, I naturally went to the Wikipedia page about octopuses, and about a third of the way down the page is a picture of an ocellated, or spotted, octopus. I had never heard the word "ocellated" before (and neither has my spellchecker), but I immediately thought, "Hey, ocelots have spots! So ocelots must have gotten their name from 'ocellated'!"

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong! "Ocellated" is actually related to "ocular", because "ocellate" (as an adjective) or "ocellated" means "having eye-like spots"; it's from Latin "ocellus", which is the diminutive of "oculus", "eye".

"Ocelot", on the other hand, is a shortened form of the Nahuatl (a language of central Mexico) word "ocelotl", which in turn is a shortening of the formidable-looking "tlalocelotl", "field-jaguar".

I'll show you an ocelot but I'm not showing you a picture of an octopus because I think they're kind of creepy. Mind you, ocelots are, too, a little; their eyes look disproportionately big to me and that makes them unsettling. I like cats but ocelots are over the line.

What is the plural of "octopus"? Wikipedia has much to say on the subject, including this:

There are three forms of the plural of octopus; namely, octopuses, octopi, and octopodes. Currently, octopuses is the most common form in the UK as well as the US; octopodes is rare, and octopi is often objected to.


Fowler's Modern English Usage states that "the only acceptable plural in English is octopuses," and that octopi is misconceived and octopodes pedantic.

I am going to take them at their word. I'm usually inclined to give Fowler's the benefit of the doubt, anyway. "Octopuses" it is.

The plural of "ocelot" is "ocelots". No argument there, I trust.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

John McWhorter's "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue" was released here recently- don't suppose you've read it yet?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 1:58:00 PM  

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