Sunday, September 03, 2017

So what is the plural of octopus?

So what is the plural of octopus?

The OED says is it octopodes, which makes sense since octopus is a Greek word. Most dictionaries consider octopuses acceptable.

Usage is another matter. The most popular form was octopi until about 1930 when octopuses took over. English writers have flatly refused to adopt octopodes.


  1. This is one where it was lost in translation.
    If it was Octopous, then octopodes would be correct.
    Octopus as a word is essentially made up, as it is a New Latin word created in the 1800's, and as such, has no actual Roman usage predecessor. The ending -us in Latin can actually be different things, like a masculine noun of the 2nd Declension, where the correct plural would be octopi, but Octopus was put in the 3rd declension, which are almost all irregular in their endings, which is borne out in the way the endings bear out, as all the singular and plural endings other than nominative and vocative have the root of octopod- which means eight feet.

  2. Dude, it's Wiktionary. I have both the original OED in book form and the second edition in electronic form, and it says nothing even remotely close to their alleged citation. After a quick review of my dictionaries, I have concluded that their order of plurals in descending frequency of use is actually taken directly from the Webster's Unabridged.

    Here is the full OED entry, cut and pasted:

    ‖ octopus

    (ˈɒktəpəs, ɒkˈtəʊpəs)

    Pl. octopodes (ɒkˈtəʊpədiːz), anglicized octopuses.

    [mod.L. octōpus, a. Gr. ὀκτώπους, acc. ὀκτώποδ-α eight-footed, f. ὀκτώ eight + πούς, πόδ- foot.]

    A genus of cephalopod molluscs, characterized by eight ‘arms’ surrounding the mouth and provided with suckers; an individual of this genus (esp. one of the larger and more formidable species).

       1758 Baker in Phil. Trans. L. 778 The Polypus, particularly so called, the Octopus, Preke, or Pour-contrel.    1835 Kirby Hab. & Inst. Anim. I. x. 308 The body of the octopus is small, it has legs sometimes a foot and a half in length, with about two hundred and forty suckers on each leg.    1880 Browning Pietro of Abano 401 Help! The old magician clings like an octopus!    1884 H. M. Leathes Rough Notes Nat. Hist. 46 Saying that enormous octopuses existed on the western side of Panama, in the Pacific Ocean.

    b.b fig.; usually applied to an organized power having extended ramifications and far-reaching influence, esp. harmful or destructive.

       1882 Greg Misc. Ess. ii. 37 We are the very octopus of nations.    1893 Boston (Mass.) Jrnl. 25 Mar. 2/1 The electric octopus. Formal organization of the New England Street Railway Company.    1894 Westm. Gaz. 12 Mar. 2/1 He was an administrative octopus, a cormorant of toil.

    c.c attrib. and Comb.

       1880 G. Meredith Tragic Com. (1881) 206 Then they laid octopus-limbs on her.    1894 Outing (U.S.) XXIV. 460/1 An octopus power sought to tear the human limpet from its clinging place.    1898 P. Manson Trop. Diseases i. 9 A strange-looking octopus-like creature.