Pretentious Latin Plurals in English

Do you ever get vaguely irritated when you hear people using words like fora when they mean forums?

I do, because as often as not, these people don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.   When you hear someone talking about fora or maxima, the chances are, you’re dealing with someone who wouldn’t know the difference between a Latin neuter plural and a rotten pumpkin packed with old fish-heads, but that’s pretentiousness for you.

It shouldn’t annoy me I suppose but yet, somehow, it gets under my skin, and I wonder why.

Is it because they’re wrong?  I don’t think so, since people are wrong all the time about everything  imaginable, and if you bothered yourself about one thing you’d have to bother yourself about the lot, thereby driving yourself into a froth of pedantry from which you might never emerge in one piece.  Besides, I myself am in a perpetual state of wrongness about most things, and what’s more, the Latin plural of forum really is fora.

Clearly the problem runs deeper and my irritation must come from a gut feeling based on some amorphous, atavistic and as-yet unnamed rationale, but with a hard little kernel of truth embedded in it somewhere.

I’ve always had an ill-defined dislike of people who dress up in cravats.   I realise it’s an irrational reaction to a sartorial choice that everyone is entitled to make, but still, just indulge me for a minute.  A cravat in its context is a fine thing indeed, as the Croat mercenaries, from whom it took its name, demonstrated in the reign of Louis XIII.  But when a ridiculous coterie of dessicated old frauds adopt the cravat, and perhaps the beret, to inform the world that they are poets of one sort or another, then I’m of one mind with Hermann Goering.  Release the safety catch on the revolver.

In those circumstances, that cravat and that beret are not just a statement of belonging, but also a flag of exclusion, like a monkey waving his purple arse at the enemy, and so it is that the beret and the cravat have their counterparts in the world of words.  Sadly, language is not just a means of communication but also of exclusion, and that brings us back to where we came in: silly people using Latin words as a means of marking their territory, even when they have not the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

The question is simple.  Are we speaking English or are we speaking Latin?

If we’re speaking Latin, I have no difficulty whatever going along with the many and complex grammatical rules of that language, but in truth, the reality is that we are not.

We speak English.

And yes, I know that many loan-words use their original plurals, even though there’s absolutely no need.  Likewise, I know that the same pedants don’t always insist on Latin plurals, which is why people go to  auditoria but not circi.  They take part in fora but go to museums.  They talk about stigmata but fail to detect the multiple aromata of bullshit.

These are the sort of folks, at a guess, who might admire the three tenors, but do they consult doctores, applaud actores or learn from professores?

They might buy U2’s new album, but in this economic climate, can they afford two alba?

How many Sphinges do they see when they go to Egypt?

Were they proud of the Planning Tribunal and would they like us to hold more tribunalia?

Should I have broken up the last sentence with a couple of commata?

I’d show them a picture, but unfortunately, both of my camerae are broken at the moment.

My personal favourite is the absurd and meaningless word Referenda, which doesn’t exist as a noun in Latin, since referendum is a gerundive, with no plural form.

Enough.  You can see where I’m going with this or not, so there’s no point in beating it senseless.  Custom and practice decides how a word enters the language and in what form.  That’s what makes English so versatile and so annoying at the same time , and it’s also precisely the thing I’m not complaining about since to do so would be futile.

I just don’t like pompous  ignorant fuckers inflicting their ignorance on the rest of us, so the next time somebody corrects you and tells you not to say addendums, point out to them firstly that this is English, not Latin and secondly, even if it was Latin, addendum is not a noun but a participle.  Having advised them of those two facts, you can then freely advise them to fuck off.

They’re talking scrota.




8 thoughts on “Pretentious Latin Plurals in English

  1. I better put away that beret that I was planning on wearing with the winter almost upon us, so.
    On second thoughts, fuck it, it keeps the head warm and it’s a man’s beret too.
    It suits me.

    While I can be a bit of a sapiophile (is that the right word?) I find humour more appealing…Less pretentious.

    It’s a difficult one when you’re at ease with any class of person, do you change the language you use for whoever you happen to be with?
    I guess we all do that to a certain extent. Modify ourselves.
    Luckily I’ve not had to mingle too much with people who use latin plurals.
    Do these people even exist in Limerick anyway?
    We need a fora for these shams.

  2. If we analyse words in part of one sentence in your post: “…my irritation must come from a gut feeling based on some amorphous, atavistic and as-yet unnamed rationale…” we will note (nota bene) that much English vocabulary derives from Latin. Thus words like irritation (from irritus, to make angry) and rationale (from ratio meaning I reason), along with ‘based’ ‘amorphous’ ‘atavistic’ and ‘unnamed’ (nomen = name) are all Latin-derived. I suggest a cursory glance at Melvin Bragg’s history of the English language will illuminate (from illuminatio, I cast light upon) the heavy debt that English owes to Latin and many other languages, some of them living. As for the anglicisation of some Latin plurals, exempla gratia forums instead of fora, referendums instead of referenda, well shur it’s all a matter of personal taste IMHO.

  3. I don’t think that I could find a cravat in my “wardrobe” now, even if I wanted to wear one. However, for several years I regularly, and for a couple of years almost daily, wore a beret, bearing the badge of the Royal Marines. Even though it was blue, rather than green (because I didn’t do commando training) I was actually proud to wear it.

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