This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Nuts and Bolts 2. Hypercorrections

Four left feet.

Oh, we all know about ordinary corrections, of course. Some of my teachers used to gouge terrifying lines right through the paper, though even more crushing were the tiny neat crosses of teachers who really did not care in the slightest whether I'd got my answers right or not.
Anyway, hypercorrection is when someone, trying to be clever, uses a language rule that doesn't always work and ends up with non-standard English. Or a mistake, depending on how you look at it.

Take, for example, the word octopus. The much-used plural form octopi looks right, and would in fact be right if only the word were nice Old Latin like stimulus - but unfortunately it's actually Greek, which means it has to be octopodes; which lovely word is, however, much too fancy for daily use and so I am left, rather sadly, to use the rather ordinary octopuses.

Oh, but I do regret not being able to use the magnificent octopodes.

Octopus is a New Latin word, from the Greek oktopous, having eight feet. (Except that the scientists tend to call them arms.)

Thing to do today: rub your tummy and pat your head - and be glad you're not an octopus.


  1. Lovely word, octopodes. I would love to be an octopus because then I'd know all the football results before they happened which would save me a lot of stress.

    I was wondering if platypus follows the same pattern. Wikipedia says there's no official plural although the most commonly used plurals are platypuses or platypus. However, the etymologically correct plural is platypodes.

  2. Platypodes? I've never wondered about them, though I am very fond of watching the proboscides of butterflies when they're feeding from flowers.