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Plural forms of words borrowed from Latin

The Latin plural for neuter nouns ends -a  (in the nominative case which is the case we use when adopting Latin nouns into English). The singular ends with -um, in many examples, but not all (caput - capita as in per capita which should really be per caput as it means ‘per’ head, not heads). In English we follow this rule with words we realise are borrowed from Latin, so we have errata for plural erratum, data for plural datum (given ‘thing’, but no one seems to notice that even data is used in the English singular), crematoria for plural of crematorium, corrigenda for things which need correcting, gerundive of obligation of corrigere = to correct. One error needing correcting: corrigendum. These, when they were born, were of course Latin words. 

Sometimes not -a, however, for no particular reason. This was mentioned in a recent Daily Telegraph letter to the editor, by a James Wraight of Kent, mentioning mausolea (or mausoleums?). Apparently students at the Royal Military College of Science told their tutor “we have finished the experiment with pendula, have done the sa and are sitting on our ba sucking winega”. 

Why pendula? Not pendulums? Pendulum is neuter Latin. Just usage? The other plurals here are of course facetious, (as they are not from Latin), but make the point that the students thought pendula was a bit over the top. Like the story of the charabanc parking spot by Magdalene College at Oxford, signposted “charsabanc”, because technically it was the chars not the banc which were plural (although there were more than one row of bancs in each vehicle the term banc here was used adjectivally, describing how the chars were arranged - in a row, or rows. But the chars in each vehicle were plural too, so perhaps each vehicle should have been called a charsabanc, leaving the pedants nonplussed when it came to pluralising it, as the good bursar’s department of the college must have been doing. So they renamed the vehicle an omnibus, Latin meaning “for all” (ablative masculine/feminine neuter plural) soon abbreviated to ‘bus, as it is spelled in books published up to the Second World War, now just bus, plural buses, not busses because that means kisses. 

English isn’t hard, is it?

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Internet service May 8, 2014, 2:21am

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@WW Phrasal verbs is the one area where I think translation helps with a monolingual class. Might I suggest "turning the tables" - getting the students to teach you the Polish for a few verbs like "come up with", and then test you a week later?

jayles October 23, 2013, 4:00pm

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@jayles - re your third paragraph - absolutely. The first thing I found here was that it wasn't the long words (i..e Latinates) they found difficult, but the short ones, and especially phrasal verbs.

I'm not really au courant with modern education in Britain; it's just the impression I get from reading the papers.

I don't do any academic English teaching myself, although I have done a little IELTS, so I'm not really aware of these problems, but you might be interested in this little 'tool' I put together:

Warsaw Will October 23, 2013, 4:32am

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@WW Yes language learning in continental Europe is much better than in England. As I haven't betrod the hallowed cloisters of an English school in many a year, I have no real idea what goes on; you are clearly au courant. My one-time school still includes a modern language in the core curriculum, but Latin and Greek are optional extras (but sadly not Russian any more).
I think one's views are modified by one's experiences in life; and when I started TEFL-ing years ago i would have wholeheartedly agreed with you all the way down the line. However, over the last decade I have been teaching quite a bit of academic English - the sort of stuff where one awards no marks for "the weather is dry" but a tick for "the climate is arid". It's qiote different to CPE where one is aiming for a range of more normal English.
With your knowledge of Spanish/French I am sure you will appreciate that academic English is, in terms of vocabulary, actually easier than phrasal verbs for Romance language speakers.
When it comes to non-Indo-European language speakers though, the boot is on the other foot - so much so that on some occasions I ended up spending a couple of hours, inter aleae, teaching pure latin in the midst of an EAP course. Surpriisingly this went down well as it brought some cohesion and structure to learning those 2000 non-technical academic words that are sine qua non. But after a while one must wonder at the unhingedness of it all, teaching Latin to Chinese so they can learn English. Would help if they learnt Greek too, I suppose.
However I don't bother with latin plurals much - it's all about word-roots, pre-fixes and suffixes.
"Hi Teng Shu-ping, what's the weather like in Xin Jiang?"
"The climate is arid, sir".
Pax tecum.

jayles October 22, 2013, 9:29pm

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@jayles - I think you're making false comparisons. Obviously people who learn Latin and Greek aren't studying it as a means of social communication; they have other reasons for doing so. Nobody that I know of is suggesting that someone should learn Latin or Greek instead of Spanish or any other modern language. One does not rule out the other. In fact it might complement the other. It's quite possible my vague memories of Latin helped when it came to learning French and Spanish.

And although knowledge of Latin is of course not necessary for an understanding of English, it certainly makes it more interesting for me, as does a bit of French. But then, unlike you, I relish English's bastard roots.

What has stopped people learning modern languages in Britain has nothing to do with people learning Classics, but the removal or reduction of language teaching from the core curriculum and from university entrance requirements, and the general attitude to learning foreign languages in Britain. In Poland everybody learns a second language, and many of my students a third, and many universities demand a second language. This is quite standard in continental Europe, but I never hear any complaints that this policy might suffer from the teaching of Latin.

I really think you're complaining about a problem that doesn't exist. How many people are made to learn Latin at school nowadays, and of those, do we really know that it's at the expense of modern languages?

Warsaw Will October 22, 2013, 1:45pm

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@WW The downside to learning Latin is that it is just reading. Scour the net for listening if you will. It's also hard to do any writing with so many modern words like airport and coffee just missing. Speaking practice? No,not even at the Vatican.
Put this all alongside learning Spanish (think South America) or another Romance tongue, and the difference is clear. Latin is often touted as being useful to understanding English; it is. But any other romance language wil do much the same.
Sometimes word-roots are a good "mind-hook" or aide-memoire when learning a "foreign" tongue. So may/might in English becomes "moc" (can) in Polish, and "mighty" becomes "mocny". Of course this won't work if one is learning Chinese or Turkish.....
For me (and people are different) I find the key to speaking a language is in being widely read with a huge word-stock, and listening at least three or four hours a day. With the internet one can watch the news/TV in almost any tongue and copy stuff to the iPod and listen to it as one drives along. Can't do that with Latin.
Lastly, if education is in part about broadening one's horizons then a truly "foreign" (ie non-Indo-european) language would be better.

jayles October 20, 2013, 3:16pm

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@jayles - for someone who thinks learning Latin and Greek is a waste of time, you seem to know an awful lot about them (and be rather interested in them). Are they, then, also a waste of your time?

Warsaw Will October 20, 2013, 8:40am

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Re gnosis: perhaps I should also have mentioned agnostic,cognizance,reconnaisance, recognize, and in the end "acknowledge" as having like roots.
Re crisis: also related to discriminate, discern, and "riddled with" and "riddle" in the meaning of sieve.

jayles October 19, 2013, 11:59pm

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@Brus Quite right, but they were Greek nouns before they came into latin.
'Krisis' is somehow related to kriterion and kritic from a verb meaning to deem, judge.
'Thesis' is somehow related to our word 'deed'; and 'para' means alongside as in parallel, paramedic.
'Diagnosis' = "through-knowing" - dia = through; gnosis as in gnostic is our word know,
or in slavic tongues znac/znat. In latin it became nosco,noscere,notus or -gnosco as in cognosco giving us cognoscenti and I guess cognitive, and ignore.
'Oasis' is a greek borrowing from tongue in west asia where they truly had deserts.
"iris" actually was borrowed into latin from greek and means a rainbow - so an iris is a "rainbow-bloom" if you will. The plural in latin is "irides" .

jayles October 19, 2013, 10:23pm

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These nouns are masculine and feminine third declension Latin nouns whose plural nominative and accusative forms are -es in place of -is: we are not adding another -es, but -es instead of -is. So crises, parentheses, oases, diagnoses. You know this already, of course. So why irises, not irides, nor ires,. ? English iris, not Latin, then. So irises. Irides would baffle folk, so a no-no. Ires is not Latin and sounds daft. So say iris is English, and treat it accordingly when pluralising.

Brus October 19, 2013, 8:23pm

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With some nouns ending in -is, such as crisis, thesis, parenthesis, oasis, diagnosis are something of a special case. We balk at adding another 'es', although we don't seem to mind with "iris" => irises (not irides as in iridescent).
Again one might use 'brackets' or 'braces' instead of parentheses to get round the issue.

jayles October 19, 2013, 6:31pm

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@Brus - To be honest I'm not sure I'd even made the connection between opus and opera, or if I had, I'd forgotten about it. Thanks for that, and for the rest. And to add to the list, we have of course, corporal and corporeal.

Warsaw Will October 19, 2013, 11:31am

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May I place forward for your delectation:
"opus", a piece of work, and "opera", works, from Latin 'opus, operis', = (piece of ) work, (n).
"genus", a sort or kind and "general", of a sort, from Latin 'genus, generis' = sort (n).

Although your point is not the same with the following neuter Latin nouns, necessarily with irregular genitive because 3rd declension where there is no 'rule', we see a pattern forming nevertheless, with English derivative:
capital, from caput, capitis (n) = head, itinerary, from iter, itineris (n) = journey,
littoral, from litus, litoris (n)=coast, nominal from nomen, nominis (n)=name,
oral, from os, oris (n)=mouth, face, rustic,rural from rus, ruris (n)=countryside
temporary from tempus, temporis (n)=time, vulnerable from vulnus, vulneris (n)=wound. The final -is which is genitive singular is replaced with -a to form nominative (and accusative) plural: capita, genera, itinera, litora, nomina, opera, ora, rura, tempora, vulnera.

But only opus and genus spring to mind as words used in English in the way you suggest for corpus.

Brus October 19, 2013, 7:19am

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A question for Brus. When discussing language nowadays the Latin word 'corpus' is used a lot; for example most dictionaries are now corpus based. The plural of 'corpus', it seems, is 'corpora'. Are there any other examples of this '-us / -ora' construction in current use in English?

@jayles - I doubt that there are many schools nowadays where Latin and /or Greek are compulsory and where pupils lose out on learning a modern language because they have to do Classics instead, so I think this is a bit of a straw man argument. And surely there is nothing wrong with having the opportunity to learn Ancient Latin or Greek if pupils want to.

As for the plurals you mention, I rather like having these exceptions; they make life a bit more interesting. Wouldn't English be awfully dull if it was one hundred percent regular?

Warsaw Will October 19, 2013, 5:39am

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@WW Indeed.
It's not just Latin - there's the Greek stuff too - stigmata, schemata, phenomenon and criterion so forth. (i think I only ever teach the last two)
Teaching Latin in schools only serves to perpetuate these irregularities and delay the full assimilation of latin and greek words into English. Learning Spanish today would be of more use.

jayles October 18, 2013, 2:31pm

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Good man, Jayles: you can't beat a misspent youth. You too, Warsaw Will: that Latin master was an Oxford man, you can tell.

Brus October 18, 2013, 8:37am

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@jayles - are you perhaps thinking of the story where the young Churchill has just been introduced to noun cases, and asks when he should use the vocative and say (the Latin for) 'O, Table', and the Latin master replies 'When you are addressing a table, of course'?

Warsaw Will October 18, 2013, 4:57am

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I cannot underwrite the idea that Latin is worth learning because of the "detective work" involved. There are plenty of other languages that offer just as much scope and are far more useful and relevant to everyday life.
I rate those youthful hours spent ploughing through the Aeneid as misguided and misspent, albeit at the time it was de rigeur. I think Winston and I are of the same mind on this.

jayles October 17, 2013, 8:41pm

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"Merces/mercedis" is a case in point. In Vulgar latin it came to mean "favor" or "pity" and thence came to us via Old French as "mercy".

jayles October 17, 2013, 8:32pm

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@Brus - I realised later that that was probably what you meant, but as you appear on feed readers as 'retired teacher', I had assumed you were much the same generation as me and that you would be familiar with the name of Pius XII, who died when I was at primary school. And as you say, we've all (Catholics and non-Catholics alike) heard about him because of the controversy over his actions, or lack of them, during the Nazi period.

Hover, my tongue was also pretty firmly in cheek, and I was in no way suggesting that being a citizen of modern Rome makes you an expert on Classical Latin. But, as I said earlier, Church Latin is based on the Vulgate. As are romance languages, as I understand it, which suggests to me that the influence of Vulgate Latin has been just as great as Classical Latin, albeit in different ways, and need neither be seen as incorrect nor somehow inferior.

Warsaw Will October 17, 2013, 4:19pm

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Okay, Will. Now, my researches reveal that he was the one we've all heard about from the 1939-1945 war. Now, the Roman Empire in the west was all over by the 6th century, and in the east they used Greek. Your man used Italian except at work. Er, he wasn't Roman in the Latin-speaking sense, which is, rather obviously, what I meant by my jocular comment. The number suggests that he was not exactly one of the early Latin popes, rather than one of the later, Italian (and indeed on one occasion Polish, and another German ...) ones. That is what I meant, you see, and indeed, so it proved. That his home, born and bred, was 20th century Rome does not suggest to me that his Latin should be of the highest calibre. I was jesting anyway.

Brus October 16, 2013, 12:42pm

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@Brus - 'You can tell from his number XII that he probably wasn't Roman, so that may explain it' - I think I'm missing something here - why does the number 12 tell you he wasn't Roman?

However your theory is wrong, I'm afraid, he was Roman, born and bred.

Warsaw Will October 16, 2013, 12:17pm

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Jayles, this problem with this particular word is that it makes one appearance only in one of two potentially useful textbooks and they forgot to put it in the vocabulary list at the back (Cambridge Latin Course, which I used only rarely anyway), nor is it in the compact Latin dictionary (Cassell's) at hand. As it ends in -es and the expression 'suas merces' is retained in the memory, the error is an easy one to forgive, since you did not let on that you were quoting another speaker addressing not me but an audience of plural people. The detective work is the point of the Latin, and it was based on a false assumption.

Brus October 16, 2013, 4:06am

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@ Brus the point about the latin is that if those of us with a smattering can't remember the plurals, what is the point of foisting them on the great unwashed speakers of barbarous mongrel tongues like Engish?

jayles October 15, 2013, 8:27pm

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Pope not much good at Latin, hey? You can tell from his number XII that he probably wasn't Roman, so that may explain it. sed infallibilis est, dicis. Case dismissed, Jayles. I had not appreciated that you had elected to nick your Latin stuff from other chaps' writings, and your A grade I mentioned earlier is withdrawn, as your work is not original. Jolly good fun, all this bollocks, hey? We used to say hey? all the time in South Africa. It means nothing, beyond a whimpering plea for someone, almost anyone really, to agree with whatever crap has just been uttered. How we laughed in those days! They just don't get it anymore these days. To illustrate, we were in there at the invention of hang gliding - no one does this wonderful, mad thing any more, or at least round here. (But I'll tell you what - I am going to Vang Vieng in Laos in January to participate in a cool game called tubing, where you float down the river in a rubber inner tube, for miles, calling in along the way in numerous riverside bars to pass the day away. Such fun! It is the safest time of year to do this mad sport where the death toll is alarming, but we can't all live forever, can we now? Hey?)
It is postulated by the cognoscenti that the rot in education set in in 1989 when the crazies took over this important field somehow, and my experience says that's right. Some daft new theories of education were constructed by mad people, and daft people took them, the people, seriously enough to take the theories seriously too.
I'm the guy who gave you your vote, by the way, for that last bit of yours. You are so right about merces being singular when it looks plural in this instance. I had forgot this thing - too long out of the loop, I fear. non infallibilis sum, quod papa non sum.

Brus October 15, 2013, 6:53pm

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@Bru Copulis donatis sequitur:
1) merces is fem; plural mercedes (if you have one it is your rewards)
2) thus the verb is rightly 'est' and not "sunt"
3) the Vulgate uses "quoniam" not "quod" in this context and this is also quoted by the Pope Pius XII in EPISTULA ENCYCLICA ORIENTALES ECCLESIAS
Quod infallibilis est, non est corrigendum.
Veniam condonatumque spero. Nunc dimittis servum tuum.

jayles October 15, 2013, 5:14pm

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Oh, I see, Jayles the Unready. You mean you are blessed for I rail against thee, but you say it is the case that I say all manner of evil against thee falsely whereas I would argue that I do so truly, for Yea, your grammar's all to hell because it contains errors which are all to do with number and with case, which is to say, the functions of the words within the sentence concerned, with the added frilly bit being the three (on a good day) different declensions involved, and their own internal variations from one word to the next in the manner in which each declines down the list according to its function. Shows you the way for German, Russian, and Yea, Xhosa and Zulu and all their relatives too. Get cracking on one and soon you can easily master the lot. Piece of cake. Not Afrikaans, though. It is simple and has no grammar worth mentioning, I gather. I was advised that if you want to pronounce it properly you must aspire just to make it sound as disgusting as possible, with much in the way of gargling and retching noises. Bizarrely I could not master this noisy and noisome tongue which is a shame, for it is bloody good fun gargling in it.

Brus October 15, 2013, 3:46pm

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And as for our learned friend WW, indeed I am up to date on 1066 and all that stuff, and can picture the illustration as we speak. You are correct in observing that the schools round these parts like to pronounce it as they please, partly to help the poor wretches who have enough to cope with in this immensely instructive medium, many of whom might give up the ghost if nothing at all is as it seems. And partly because I bet it was never pronounced like these weird ways suggest. How the hell do we know how they pronounced it? We don't even know how Queen Victoria pronounced her English. I believe it has something to do with the noises and rhythms and rhymes which emerge from a really deep study of the poetry. But v rhymes with u rhymes with w and they all float in and out of one another all the time, not that I know all about that, or indeed anything at all about it. It wasn't my department.

Brus October 15, 2013, 3:27pm

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Well indeed, Jayles the Unsteady, I have consulted the Good Book and Yea, there is something about great being my reward in heaven, and some chaps being prosecuted. I know this sounds somewhat unlikely, but in a previous incarnation I used to be the chap who was meant to prosecute the criminals in Cape Town's magistrate's court. It's a long story. We had to do a Latin exam as part of the qualification, for the law in those parts was based on Roman Law. Not criminal law, mind. Another in the local version of Dutch which the criminals favoured. Some richly comic fellows there were the gentlemen who translated the stuff the criminals and witnesses said out of the local African lingo into whatever lingo the prosecutor favoured (or whoever was bullying these folk into speaking up for themselves). It was the only chance you got to employ English if you fancied.
Surely, Jayles, you do not refer to that fearful episode I endured in that frightful place where I was winning my education? You cannot, for you did not know of it. I thought it was going to prove to be that chap who had cast his star in the firmament to whom you alluded, but no, it is to do with the beatitudes about which I was instructed many moons ago. Whatever are you on about?

Brus October 15, 2013, 3:12pm

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@Brus cf Matt 5:12

jayles October 15, 2013, 2:36pm

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jayles October 15, 2013, 2:26pm

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Ach well, not often I'm right but ...............................


Hairy Scot October 15, 2013, 2:05pm

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@Brus and Skeeter Lewis - the learned Will did indeed slip up there, and will willingly admit that classics is not his strong point. Brus, I think SK means me, not that playwright chappie.

@Brus - I hope you realised "Weeny, Weedy and Weaky" was a joke. You do know 1066 and All That, I hope. And not all English schools pronounce v as w or c as k. For example in my school, we didn't.

@HS - atrium is a well-established English word in its own right, and posh or not, the standard pronunciation (the only one in three British dictionaries I've just checked) is /ˈeɪtriəm/, i.e. ae not a. So I'm afraid that it's the person who pronounces it to rhyme with Athens who is being at least different. Aqua is a different kettle of fish, being really a Latin word used in very specialist contexts. Atrium, incidentally, seems to be one of those words where we have a choice as to the plural - atria or atriums (so says Oxford - but atriums is being red-lined here!).

Warsaw Will October 15, 2013, 1:58pm

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nil lamentandum sed gaude et exulta quod merces vestra copiosa sunt in caelis propter plurales latinos, ...

... you mean, surely, Jayles the Unsteady.

gaude and exulta are singular imperative commands, singular because I am one such, vestra is 2nd declension adjective in agreement with merces, 3rd declension neuter noun it seems, despite an ending which would make a chap plump for masc/fem, both nom. masc. plural. I like quod for because=on the grounds that: quoniam means 'since/whereas/because' which is not what we are after here, because the 'whereas' aspect is not at all what we want

5 errors. 11/16, or perhaps 15/20 to round it up a bit. Jolly good for a beginner, in my view. These days they'd give that an A grade after three years' work if you could reproduce this quality across a few sentences. Perhaps the equivalent of five in all. Piece of cake! I say go for it and add another arrow to your quiver.

Thanks, Skeeter Lewis, for the reminder. I had forgotten all those things that chap said, shamefully.

Brus October 15, 2013, 12:02pm

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The learned Will mentioned 'flora and fauna but forums' as though 'florums' and 'faunums' were a possibility.

Skeeter Lewis October 15, 2013, 11:12am

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nil lamentandum sed gaudete et exultate quoniam merces vestra copiosa est in caelis propter plurales latinis

jayles October 15, 2013, 6:34am

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Excuse me, Skeeter Lewis - am I taking your statement too literally? Is it perhaps sent with humorous intent? I am not aware of anyone attempting to pluralise these good ladies, or rather, their names. It must be a joke, I suppose.
iungo, iungere, iunxi, iunctum, if I recall accurately. Means join. Change i to j and you have the roots of con-jugate, junction ... you name it. Stuff to do with joining. Shagging is joining. That's your lot, unless you want to join Jayles the Unsteady in signing up for Latin lessons. Funny how no one likes to do that, isn't it? How else do you plan to learn English?

Brus October 15, 2013, 6:07am

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Flora and Fauna were goddesses so there was nothing to pluralize.

As for conjugating and shagging - what's wrong with having it all?

Skeeter Lewis October 15, 2013, 5:43am

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Good god! A convert! I think I'm going to cry.

Brus October 15, 2013, 5:04am

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Qualibus regulis? Qualis ludus? Quor sequor?

jayles October 15, 2013, 2:24am

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Hairy Scot, he'd have absolutely loved it. I had a lad like that and he and I were great mates.
As for you, Jayles the Unsteady, your method is just a copout. There's a fellow on these pages who'd have us all using only Anglo-Saxon words. You and he could be great mates too, if you wanted, but it isn't following the rules of the game.

Brus October 15, 2013, 12:56am

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In some cases there is an alternative to worrying about latin plurals; find a real English word instead. So sometimes we can use "hallmark" or "benchmark" instead of criterias, or hallways, or even foyers instead of atriums, just avoiding the issue.

jayles October 14, 2013, 9:54pm

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I must admit to having thoughts about shagging and other activities while sitting in a semi-comatose state while our Latin master droned on about conjugations and long vowels.
That I never raised the topic with him was less about forbearance or respect and more because I could get into enough hot water without introducing details of my prurient pubescent thoughts.
Thinking back, I now wish I had. :-)

Hairy Scot October 14, 2013, 9:37pm

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The third bit there's very funny. I would pay gold to have heard one of my pupils tell me that.

Brus October 14, 2013, 9:12pm

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There must surely be more to education than a head stuffed with latin plurals.

I cannot think it a good preparation for those school-leavers of 1944 who were drafted into Klever Reichswald where a subaltern's life expectancy was just three weeks.

A good beer and a shag might been more use than conjugations. Surely education has more to do with overturning moribund thinking than following the posturing of a bygone era.

jayles October 14, 2013, 8:45pm

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LOL, yes, I slipped in alias as a tease. Although I have often heard it pronounced with the "ah" sound I do agree that the "ae" sounds better. But who knows?
I was the more concerned with the likes of atrium, aqua, and aqueous.
Recently in a pharmacy in Scotland I asked for "ah"qeous cream and got a blank look from the assistant (not blonde) until I explained for what I needed this mysterious preparation, whereupon she exlaimed, "Oh aye, "ae"qeuos cream!
As for atrium, the "ae" pronunciation just sounds like someone trying to be posh. :)
Anent "V" and "W": the spelling of "Claudius" in Latin is apparently "Clavdivs" which could mean that "Claud the god" is actually "Clav the slav".

Hairy Scot October 14, 2013, 11:10am

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I never could understand why Dr Sherwin-White of St John's College Oxford, who taught me a think or two about Latin, insisted on spelling it with a u.

Brus October 14, 2013, 10:27am

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The British like to say it with a w, but then, they're English, aren't they? And veni vidi vici are Latin. And the continental experts say it with a v, I understand, and so do I.

Brus October 14, 2013, 10:22am

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And speaking of Latin pronunciation, did Julius Caesar say 'veni, vidi, vici' with a V, or were Sellar and Yeatman (1066 and All That) nearer the mark with their “Weeny, Weedy and Weaky'?

Warsaw Will October 14, 2013, 7:30am

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@HS - sorry, but who on earth pronounces alias with an 'ah', unless as jayles says, they want to sound like a prat? There's nothing wrong with anglicising Latin words, just as we do with words from other languages - for example: menu, alliance, yacht - all have different vowel sounds than in their original languages. Even Anglo-Saxon derived words are often pronounced differently today from how they were originally pronounced, hence our problems with the Middle English. Not to mention the Great Vowel Shift.

Then there are words like baron, which we got from Old French, which in turn got it from Late Latin. But it turns out Latin got it from the (Germanic) Frankish 'baro' which was cognate with Old English 'beorn'. So it went full circle - Germanic > Latin > Romance > Germanic.

And when we talk of how Latin was originally pronounced, what Latin are we talking about? Many words came into English through Vulgate Latin or Middle or Late Latin rather than from Classical Latin. The pronunciation of Catholic Church Latin (based on the Vulgate), is somewhat different from Classical Latin pronunciation, for example. I'm thinking especially of words like 'caelis' and 'adveniat' in the Lord's Prayer. Here is the way it's pronounced throughout the Catholic world:

And here it is in Classical Latin, with an explanation:

Which did early Christians use? I would plump for the Vulgate, myself, but no doubt Brus can tell us.

Quintilian listed four characteristics for judging the 'purity' of a word - reason, age, authority and custom (consuetudo), (no mention, apparently, of origin), which Ben Johnson developed into the adage - 'Custom is the most certain mistress of language' - or, to put in into modern English - 'Go with the flow'. If someone insisted on using a different form than everyone else, just because it was (were for those who insist) nearer the original, then maybe jayles would have a point.

So data but museums, flora and fauna but forums (of the internet type at least). And as Brus points out, most of us have converted data into an uncountable singular noun. And sometimes we have a choice: I personally prefer referenda, although referendums seems to have won the day - but both are in dictionaries. Anglicised plurals for Greek -is words would be tricky to pronounce, so -es plurals work well (analyses, crises etc).

And sometimes words have different plurals depending on context: doctors talk of appendixes, but publishers of appendices.

Some useful stuff at the ever-excellent Alt.English.Usage:

Warsaw Will October 14, 2013, 6:37am

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I have no real issue with how we pluralise words borrowed from Latin, but it does strike me as strange that we freely accept data but eschew fora and some others.
My biggest gripe with the use of words borrowed from Latin is more about pronunciation of words beginning with "a" (eg: atrium, alias) which some people pronounce the leading "a" as "ae" rather than "ah" which is truer to the Latin pronunciation.
(The "ae" pronunciation seems to be something that extends to words like arab and Adolf with many American English speakers.)

Hairy Scot October 14, 2013, 1:54am

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@Brus Oddly, English borrows words quite freely but we seem unwilling to anglicize them properly, or at least it takes some time. The truth is that trying to impress people these days with one's "private" schooling and superior knowledge of Latin and Greek is likely to backfire and make one sound like a pratt.
Some other languages are more pragmatic about borrowed words, respelling them to fit their own orthography and changing the endings to conform to their own grammar. So 'bus' in Hungarian is spelt 'busz' (as 's' alone sounds like 'sh') with plural 'buszok'. This approach makes more sense to me.

Russian generally does the same but there are a few exceptions like the word for overcoat пальто which are just indeclinable. The trouble in English is the snob-value of latin endings.

jayles October 13, 2013, 6:53pm

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