Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An ode to the octopodes

What is the plural of octopus? 'Octopodes', 'octopi', and 'octopuses' get thrown about, but which is most correct?

First of all, 'octopuses' is reached simply by applying the classical rules of English pluralization to the word octopus, rendering it a grammatically - though not traditionally - correct plural form.

'Octopi' originated due to a mistaken assumption that the word octopus is Latin in origin.  This is an easy mistake to make, considering that 'octo' is the Latin word for eight, and the '-us' ending suggests a Latin word suffix of the second declension.  However, it is significant to note that the Latin word 'octo' actually derives from the Greek word 'okto', also meaning eight.

Were octopus a Latin word, it would actually be spelt 'octopes' (falling in the fifth declension), and be pluralized as 'octopedes'.

Arguably, the most correct plural of octopus is 'octopodes'.  The reason for this is because, as hinted at earlier, the word octopus actually derives from the Greek (not Latin) word 'oktopous' which is pluralized in the form 'oktopodes'.  This use is, however, comparatively rare.

Surely a grammar lesson can't be all this post is about, so I'll throw in some amusing octopus-related anecdotes:

I love octopus; it is just the most amazing creature. Once, when I was snorkelling, I happened to notice this lazy bit of weed sprouting, unusually, out of a hole with the hollowed out head of a cray fish attached to it.  As my eye is usually tuned to such things, I decided to get a closer look and, of course, it turned out to be an octopus... fishing!

You see, he was just sitting in his hole, lazily dangling a tentacle out of it, using the crayfish to attract small whiting and other fish stupids to his lair; as soon as they'd come in for a quick feed - BANG! - out he'd shoot, grab 'em, and into his hole he'd go.  I watched him fishing like that for about an hour, and it was truly fascinating the way that little arm swung around in the current, just lolling about with his craftily deployed crayfish head.  Brilliant little buggers.

On another occasion, I found an octopus at low tide, all holed up.  Ran back to the flats and scooped up a handful of soldier crabs, and returned to the occy hole to drop them, one by one, around his lair.  I've never been more tickled than by seeing this little bugger drop out first one arm for a fat juicy soldier crab, then another, then another, until eventually he had six independent battles going on simultaneously, and still he wouldn't let go of any of them.  Of course, once he'd retreated with his fat cache o' crab, I dropped a little gold coin in the sunshine right out his lair, and he darted out, leaving the real treasure behind, to take a look.  Out he came, and then less than a heartbeat later, about twelve soldier crabs too, very mildly chewed, scattering off over the sands.

If you're ever watching an octopus be sure to have something shiny to lure them around with; they simply can't stand not to possess the shine.  I've had them crawl all over me and follow me for hours just trying to get the gold coins out of the mesh pockets in my snorkel trunks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They sound like some of my wives? hehehe (as in follow the shiny stuff)