LINGUIST List 2.589

Sun 29 Sep 1991

Disc: Odd Plurals

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  1. Michel Eytan LILoL, Re: 2.575 Mice and Mouses
  2. Erik Carvalhal Miller, Mouses, octopodes, and other bizarre animals
  3. "Michael Kac", Re: 2.575 Mice and Mouses
  4. Michael Newman, plurals

Message 1: Re: 2.575 Mice and Mouses

Date: Sat, 28 Sep 91 15:13:11 +0100
From: Michel Eytan LILoL <>
Subject: Re: 2.575 Mice and Mouses
ad Margaret Fleck's remarks about plurals, more specifically indices vs indexes,
 I woulxd like to cite a rather amusing controversy in the esoteric field of
 Mathematics called Category Theory. Following Grothendieck's (no, he is not
 Dutch but French, these days anyhow) use of "topos" for a mathematical object,
 whose plural in French was of course "topos" (but pronounced without
 phonetisation of the final 's', just like "un ananas"/"des ananas", "un
 oeuf"/"des oeufs"), two American mathematicians (Lawvere & Tierney) introduced
 a variety of this notion which of course they called "topos" in English, the
 plural being "topoi" as bedeems a Greek word. However some people (notably
 Johstone, who wrote a book on the subject) insisted on using "toposes", since
 as they said, "when you go out for a ramble on a cold day, you carry supplies
 of hot tea in thermoses not thermoi".
Michel Eytan
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Message 2: Mouses, octopodes, and other bizarre animals

Date: Fri, 27 Sep 91 21:23 EST
From: Erik Carvalhal Miller <ECMILLERIUBACS.BITNET>
Subject: Mouses, octopodes, and other bizarre animals
>Date: Wed, 25 Sep 91 12:27:48 -0700
>From: Bill Poser <>
>Subject: plurals
>I am astounded by the contention that computer mice have the plural
>"mouses". I don't think that I have ever heard "mouses" instead of
>"mice", and I inhabit a computer-intensive world in which mice
>are a frequent topic of conversation. Is this a geographic division,
>or one between computer people and others? Who says "mouses"?
I do. Of course, I also say "octopodes" instead of the popularized "octopi."
>Indeed, in a certain milieu there has been a fashion of extending the
>-en plural. Thus, we have the following singular/plural pairs:
> VAX (Digital Equipment computer line) VAXen
> Chipmunk (HP 9836 computer) Chipmunken
> Macintosh Macintoshen
> BLIT (AT&T intelligent terminal) BLITzen
Never heard of any of those except "VAXen." The rest sound very odd to me.
"VAXen" sounds okay, although I don't use it, since I tend to think of "VAX"
as something that can't be pluralized, like the Einsteinian concepts of "time"
and "space" (i.e., "times" and "spaces" being different semantically).
Erik Carvalhal Miller
Indiana University (Bloomington)
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Message 3: Re: 2.575 Mice and Mouses

Date: Sat, 28 Sep 91 12:45:31 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: 2.575 Mice and Mouses
Since I'm one of the people who reported *mouses* as a possible plural for
*mouse* in its non-rodent sense, perhaps I should say where I first saw it.
It was, if I recall, in an early issue of one of the Mac-oriented popular
magazines, though I can't remember any more than that. I do know that I
really did see it, because it startled me at the time. In response to
speculation that's come in over who uses what form, might the split be
between those who define themselves as academics or computing professionals
vs. those to whom the computer is merely a tool or the basis of a hobby?
(I don't know, just a thought that came to mind.)
In regard to plurals like VAXen etc., I wonder if this isn't due to the
same impulse that gave rise to forms like *Xeroces*. My guess would be that
the formations started tongue-in-cheek; note, however, that if they get out
into the general public, we'll have some interesting counterevidence to the
oft-made claim that inflectional morphology doesn't get borrowed. For the
record, I say *VAXes*.
Michael Kac
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Message 4: plurals

Date: Sun, 29 Sep 91 20:22:43 EDT
From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.BITNET>
Subject: plurals
It has occurred to me that the irregular plurals in computerese (e.g. *VAXen*)
have the same ingroup function as many of what might be called normative
plurals which are frequent in intellectual concerns--such as linguistics. Of
course books have *indexes*; that word is general circulation. But when ling-
uists refer to those little sub and superscripts as *indices* we show that we
really know the correct form. The same goes for the even clumsier *corpora*.
This penchant for considering the original plural (or singular as in graffito)
as normative is elitist in effect if not intent. I recall an obnoxious NYU
urban studies professor who was leading a walking tour snidely correct an old
man who mentioned that he was an "alumni" of some college. Since ideological
criteria have become the major source of new prescriptions (witness the sexist
language debates) how about a similar attack on these unnecessary complications
to our morphology, complications as destined to be as extinct as hippopotomi.
(p.s. may hippopotomusses live for ever!)
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