Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Plural Of 'Penis' Is 'Penises'

Things That Really Annoy Me, no. 819 in a potentially infinite series:

People who think it's either clever or funny (or both) to put a spurious and wrong Latin plural of a commonly used English word in brackets with a question mark after using the correct but mundane English plural.

Often applied to 'penises' (penii?), 'geniuses' (genii?), and so on.

Example spotted in the wild in today's Guardian:

'The briefest of searches reveals that there are people out there engaged in Tom Baker scarf knitalongs, swapping encouragement over those tricky colour-changing points at a woolly Dalek's "shoulders", sharing patterns for K-9 tissue holders, knitted Tardises (Tardii?) and even a truly resplendent version in cream and red wool of Peted Davison as the Fifth Doctor.'

Why, Lucy Mangan, why? You know as well as anyone that 'Tardis' is not and never has been a Latin word. It is and always has been an acronym for 'Time and Relative Distance* in Space'. It's an English word, and its plural is 'Tardises'. You had it right the first time and what's more, you knew you did. Why let yourself down like that?


* Er, or, you know, 'Dimensions'. (Thanks LizSara!) Hmm, I may have shot myself in the foot a bit there.

31 comments:

LizSara said...

I can't believe i'm going to do this but it's Dimensions not Distances.

Was that 'ii' plural thing ever cute and amusing do you think?

patroclus said...

LizSara: Hahaha, that'll teach me!

nuttycow said...

What about octopus... are they octopuses or octopii?

patroclus said...

I reckon 'octopuses', or if you wanted to be pretentious about it, 'octopi'. Not 'octopii', though - that doesn't make any sense.

LizSara said...

I've a feeling they're actually ohmygoodgodtherestwoofthemrun

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Oh. I was about to say "never mind, I shall forgive her because she's achieved the very unusual feat of writing about knitting - especially weird knitting - without being patronising". And then I got to the last two lines. In which she's unwarrantedly rude to both geeks *and* knitters.

Grrr. Rowr.

patroclus said...

Yes, there's a certain sense of disdain for 'weird little people who do nerdy things on the internet' running through the whole article. I remain hopeful that one day the Guardian will realise that those weird little people who do nerdy things on the internet constitute practically its entire readership.

EDIT: Although actually now I come to re-read it, it does start out quite balanced. Maybe that last bit was clouding my judgment of the whole piece.

cello said...

Had to give up saying 'fora'after Mary Archer used it, but still feel a little robbed.

Billy said...

I thought the plural of penis was "penes".

patroclus said...

Cello and Billy: Those plurals are of course correct in the original Latin, but you wouldn't actually *say* them, would you? Would you?

My view is that if a word's commonly used in English, bunging '-s' or '-es' on the end is all you need to do to make it plural.

This is the kind of conversation that never ends satisfactorily, though. Pretty soon we're going to have to fight it out using our English style guide of choice as a weapon. And pretty soon I'll discover once again that I don't know nearly as much about English or Latin as I think I do.

pleite said...

I have to confess to having wankily used 'conundra', when conundrum is nothing to do with Latin at all.

I know it's not a plural thing, but where do you stand on people saying, and the example is appropriate for obvious reasons, James' blog instead of James's? I insist on the latter and don't understand folk's aversion to pronouncing two esses within fifteen minutes of each other.

patroclus said...

Agree with you all the way, BiB. It's James's, with a double 's' sound and s-apostrophe-s when written.

Although the Economist Style Guide says it's OK to write Jesus' - and the same goes for other classical figures, apparently. (I'd still write 'Patroclus's blog', though.)

cello said...

Meant to ask how many times in life have you needed to refer to penises in the plural.

Also, if you are into gardening, all the flipping names seem to have pseudo-Latin names which end in 'ii': pieris forrestii, osmanthis burkwoodii etc etc.

Tim Footman said...

OK, where do you stand on 'media' and 'agenda'? Do you treat them as singular or plural?

(And shame on you for the 'Dimensions' thing. Your anorak will be tarred and feathered.)

Dave said...

I was going to query your need to refer to penises in the plural, but cello seems to have got there before me.

Runes photos are now available for inspection at my place.

HenryDandelion said...

Hello Patroclus and Cello, you used to know me as "Jack" but he had to go away...anyway, "penises" was used a lot to describe a number of 70s/80s comedy double acts, such as Cannon & Ball, Little & Large, Hale & Pace etc. For example: "Did you see Hale & Pace last night? What a pair of penises."

Distances...oh dear, oh dear.

*Word verification: hdgwftm. Isn't that an "lol" type abbreviation for something?

patroclus said...

Cello: I think this post was the very first time. 'Penis' is one of those words I can't actually say in real life, along with 'bosom'. Call me repressed...

Tim: Now we're getting into murky waters. I'd certainly use 'medium' to describe one, er, medium, but I would never say 'agendum' - no one would know what I was on about, for a start. On the other hand, I would totally say 'agendas'. And don't worry, I am mentally flagellating myself for the 'Dimensions' thing and hoping it won't be taken into account should Mr BC ever be considered for the writing of a Doctor Who episode.

Dave: Woo! Runes! On my way!

Henry Dandelion: Blimey, is that you, Jack Spanners? How are you? And yes, I don't think you'll find any argument against your case for the use of the word 'penises'.

Smat said...

you'd better start practising saying "penis" as the Blue Kitten will ask questions about bottoms which need answers (probably in the queue in Sainsburys).

patroclus said...

Smat: Do you think 'winky' will suffice?

Smat said...

It would amuse the rest of the queue certainly, but is likely to cause problems when you're watching TellyTubbies ("why does TinkyWinky not have a winky like Daddy then?").

GreatSheElephant said...

conundrum has nothing to do with Latin? Sounds like a gerund. How disappointing.

Now, what about data? Have you ever come across anyone referring to a datum in your professional life.

Fittingly, my word ver starts with 'sad'

patroclus said...

Smat: Easy - because it's too tinky to be seen by the naked eye.

(TinkyWinky that is, not Daddy **ALERT ALERT EDITORIAL POLICY BREACH IMMINENT**)

GSE: If 'conundrum' was really a gerund it would be 'conundum', and I haven't a clue what it would mean. I've never heard anyone refer to a 'datum', although I've heard people using 'data' as a plural several times - 'the data are pretty conclusive', and so on. Which, although correct, sounds odd.

GreatSheElephant said...

ah yes, the 'r'
Oops.

Jayne said...

I always go for cocks myself (nudge nudge wink wink)

pleite said...

Sorry to go off at a plural tangent, but I have just spotted Matthew Norman in The Independent using 'fiasci'. He must be taking the piss, mustn't he?

patroclus said...

That's exactly it BiB - if you're going to be needlessly pretentious, at least make an effort to get it right. But why be needlessly pretentious? Can't he just say 'fiascoes', like anyone else? If you were going to a look at a number of wall paintings, would you say you were going to see some 'freschi'? (Or, in Matthew Norman's case, 'fresci'?). Surely you'd just say you were going to look at some frescoes?

Mind you if I was going by my own logic I would happily stand by and see people refer to 'paninis', and 'a panini'. But I can't. Oh, I really am the worst kind of pedant.

Marsha said...

Hooray! The "little breadses" are back!

llewtrah said...

The plural of penis is penes.

The plural of clitoris is clitorides.

Some of us did a bit of Greek (oo-er) in our classical languages education :)

Oli said...

Octopuses, as the word's of Greek rather than Latin origin. God bless QI.

patroclus said...

Thanks Llewtrah and Oli, now we're building up a valuable corpus (plural 'corpuses', as far as I'm concerned) of reliable information about plurals.

sarrastro said...

Been enjoying this string of blogs burd (came over here from the hotel toiletries one)...but I regret to inform you that the plural of corpus is actually corpora :-)