How to Pluralize the Word Octopus

Aside

This week, my students were puzzled with the plural of the word octopus. They campe across this question looking up various ocean animals. When they looked the word up in the dictionary, both octopuses and octopi were listed as plurals.

“Which one is it?” asked a student.

“Good question. I really don’t know,” I replied.

An interesting debate emerged among a few of the students when I asked them for the reason they had sided with one of the plural choices, each gave a reasonable response.

Etymology can be fascinating. As it turns out, octopus entered the English language in the 1700s and therefore took on the normal plural -es. Thus ‘octopuses.’ Apparently, grammarians at the time were trying to make English more predictable by using Latin endings and started using ‘octopi.’ Latin majors will argue about this as well. Something about 4th declension nouns, but I never took Latin, so it’s all Greek to me. Speaking of Greek, technically, the word octopus originated from Greek, and another group of grammarians pluralized it as ‘octopodes.’ This last form is found only in British English only and probably should be avoided.

Where did I learn this? You Tube!

That’s right. Directly from an associate editor at Merriam-Webster Online. The website is a nice resource and have several great videos that are perfect for kids who love words. They’re under two minutes long and a quick and easy way to get an expert into the classroom. The kids loved this short clip (especially the few that insisted on ‘octopuses’). When questions originates with the children, their motivation naturally increases. The resources available today are quite remarkable. The difficulty is sifting through it all.

One of my favorite titles in their series is, “Irregardless: It is in fact a real word (but it doesn’t mean you should use it.”

I think “octopodes” falls under that category. One of the things I love about teaching is learning new things with my students. Below is the video if you want to learn a little more.

Are Paper Dictionary Skills Still Worth Teaching?

I was working with a small group in my class this week as they were working on new vocabulary words. I had the dictionaries all lined up, when one of my students asked, “may we use the ipad/ipod touch instead?” Why not? I thought. Then I changed my mind and told him he had to alternate between the paper edition and the electronic one. Here’s why:

Alphabetizing, and learning how to use the key words on dictionary pages may seem out of date. Especially nowadays, when even phonebooks (remember those) don’t alphabetize names the way they used to. Last names beginning with Mc or Mac used to come before all the other M’s, but not any more. Things change. They evolve and adapt. In fact, if you use iTunes, the default is to alphabetize by first name.

What’s not out of date is how one has to organize things. Alphabetizing is just one way of showing kids how things (like words can be organized). As children create more and more products that are digital, they won’t end up in a dusty basement. Instead, their product may be cached and live online indefinitely.

Being able to tag their content for easy retrieval, organize their bookmarks, documents, photos, music, video, etc. will be very important. I don’t think they’ll be alphabetizing all their products, but learning at an early age about different ways to sort things by various attributes is essential.

It’s the first year, my second graders initiated use of an electronic dictionary. I usually introduce them to it later on in the year.

Remember in 2003, when some of my students this year were born, there was no iphone or ipad. Iphones were not introduced until 2007. There was no facebook (2004) nor was there twitter (2006).

Whether it’s an online dictionary or one of the tools I mentioned, we know there are going to be more around the corner. Some will flourish, and others will fade, but we want our children to use it responsibly.  One way to do that is model it, and that modeling needs to start with our administrators.