Monday, August 6, 2007

Proper Plurals: The Argument Over Fora

I tried to post a response to this post at Using English about choosing “forums” versus fora as the plural of forum. Unfortunately, I previewed my post and the blog then told me that I could not post it because I had posted too many comments too close together. There is another interesting discussion in the comments on this post at Pain in the English about the same subject. Below is my response to both.

This is one of my pet peeves. It's almost as bad as hearing someone refer to themselves as "an alumni of" a school. It seems to me that the fact that Google registers more people making the error than not speaks more to laziness of thought than it does to a "will to change" on the part of people who use forums instead of fora.

Is insisting on the use of oxen and foxes unreasonable or pretentious as well? Ought we not to argue for proper usage if we know it? If someone were to show me the correct way to pluralize anorak (or Inuit, as far as that goes) I'd be happy to use it correctly and disseminate the knowledge. Do we want to elect Microsoft the king of English evolution by default?

The issue cuts both ways. People forget that agenda, for instance, is a plural and that an “agenda item” is actually an agendum. I never use that word because it would require my explaining the reasoning to my board members. It’s even worse with the word “memo”, which is short for memorandum. Try using the word memoranda instead of “memos” at your next corporate meeting.

The fact is that words are absorbed into English and altered to the lowest common denominator. Is it so wrong that people fight to raise that level, to counter-balance those who would rather use “mouses” and “hoofs” than learn the right words? And the idea that cherubs should be in a dictionary fills me with horror, not least because cherubim is such an evocative word.

I will admit to having been struck favorably by the idea that hippopotamus should be pluralized as hippopotamoi. It sounds so much more majestic that “hippos”.