or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I am, once again, listening to a series of audio lectures from The Teaching Company, and no, they aren't supplying them to me for free or paying me to plug their lectures: I just like them, that's all. (Although if they did want to supply them to me for free....)

The one I'm currently working through is called Biological Anthropology (on sale right now for $34.95), and it's tremendously interesting, but round about lecture 3 or 4, the professor used a very strange word that I had to stop to really absorb, and it was strange because it's completely wrong, but it appears to make sense on the surface, if you don't think about it too hard and if you don't know much about Latin plurals.

The word was "indice", used as a singular form of the plural "indices" and pronounced as you might expect, "in-duh-see".

The trouble is that the singular of "indices" is "index". That's how Latin forms its plurals of nouns ending in "-ex". Vertex: vertices. Codex: codices. Vortex: vortices. Cortex: cortices. (And also Latin words ending in "-ix": matrix, matrices. English, typically, took a lot of words that end in "-or" such as "actor" and "aviator" and made them feminine by analogy, appending the feminine ending "-trix" to form such words as "aviatrix" and "legislatrix": these have pretty much disappeared from the language unless you are writing in the period or trying to evoke a specific feeling, though "executrix" and such still exist in legal documents, but those are disappearing, too. Being invented and not proper Latin, those words take the standard English plural form: not "aviatrices" but "aviatrixes".)

Smart-asses will say, "Well, what about 'annex'"? "Annex" wasn't a noun in Latin, only a verb (and then in the form "annexare"), so it didn't have a plural form. When we nounified it in English, as we will do, we gave it a regular plural ending.

Of course, you can use "indexes" as a noun plural if you want to; you can, in fact, standardize all those Latin nouns up there and write "codexes", "vertexes", and whatnot if you like, because they have all been made regular, so the Latin and English plurals coexist. What you cannot do, though, is back-form one of the Latin plurals into a strange, illogical, and thoroughly wrong singular. There is no "vortice" in English, no "cortice", and no "indice", either.


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