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Not word coinage - a different approach to expressing plurals
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English generally lacks numerical coefficients, unlike some languages spoken in East Asia and elsewhere. For instance, in China there are a number of words which have to be used between a cardinal number and a noun depending on the nature of the noun concerned, so for example there is a word for enumerating flat objects, another for long objects and so on. This also takes place in Malay/Indonesian, where, if i recall correctly, there is a word "ekor", meaning "tail" which must be used for counting animals.

This feature of language has traces in English, in two different ways. Firstly, there is a tendency for some animals to have irregular plurals, and even more so historically, such as "sheep", "cow", "ox" and "fish". In my dialect of English, this also applies to the word "chicken". Secondly, we count "head" of cattle rather than just cattle, and also use phrases such as "sheets of paper", "grains of sand" and so forth. Hence we do sort of have numerical correlatives in English.

I find it particularly interesting that we say "head" of cattle and do headcounts, just as Malay/Indonesian uses "tail" of animals. Both of those use an organ of the animal concerned which seems particularly significant to the human counting the animal. We also do this when we name animals scientifically.

Now, one thing which reduces me to a spasm of pedantic indecisiveness is the plural of "octopus". I therefore insist on calling more than one octopus "octopodes" rather than "octopus", "octopuses", "octopi" or any other variation on that theme. I suggest that this means of counting is a solution to this dilemma, as follows.

Imagine two of these animals. The impression one might get is of a writhing morass of sixteen tentacles. Conceptually, an octopus can be envisaged as a knot of eight tentacles joined together by a visceral hump and a head. The real unit we are counting is the eighth of an octopus represented by a single tentacle plus a octal segment of the rest of its body. This is even backed up by its neurology to some extent, since an individual octopus tentacle has its own reflexes and continues to squirm after being severed, like a lizard's tail.

Therefore i say, enough with the endless bickering and uncertainty about the plural of the word "octopus". Instead, count them by tentacles. Two of them are a "hexadecimapus", a hundred an "octohectopus" and so on.

Also, extend this to other things. A lobster is a decapod. Ten of them are a hectopod, a hundred a kilopod and so forth. Even strands of spaghetti - a kilosphaghetto. And so forth.

nineteenthly, Nov 27 2011

Squirming octopus tentacles in a bowl http://www.youtube....=PL2FF5F5A68DD63D68
Can't believe that I, a veggie, am posting this! [nineteenthly, Nov 27 2011]


       //extend this to other things// When counting people, the rules would change according to context. A manual labourer, for example, would be a pair of hands, but a speaker (at a seminar, or meeting) would be a single tongue, and a dentist would schedule a single appointment for 32 teeth.
mouseposture, Nov 27 2011

       Yes, excellent.
nineteenthly, Nov 27 2011

       Presumably Proctologists would enumerate their clients in either Sarkozies (for little arseholes) or Berlusconis (for huge ones) ...
8th of 7, Nov 27 2011

       //so for example there is a word for enumerating flat objects, another for long objects and so on//   

       Japanese is one up on that, as it has the long/flat object counters plus a different counter for one minute or more than one minute ie ippun (one minute) nifun (two minutes) .   

       Getting back onto the topic (what break the habit of a lifetime, I hear you say) we do already have something similar in English already, a pair of trousers etc
not_morrison_rm, Nov 27 2011

       Under this system would keeping crows as pets make one a murderer?   

       So, if I have seven octopodes but one of them has lost two legs, and another one which I can't quite see may or may not have lost a leg, how many do I have?   

       It is an ingeniously flawed system. Octopodata are counted in octopus-sized units because, for example, they are caught and eaten (usually) as entire animals. In describing how this terminology might be useful, you started by saying "imagine two of these animals", which is exactly the way people do think of octopodia.   

       As for the lobster, I know two lobsters when I see them, but it would require some modest mental gymnastics to identify the two lobsters as a twentyopod.   

       Also, under your system I would be unsure whether I was buying one good lobster, or two lobsters which had both been involved in severe, limb-losing accidents.   

       As for Malay, Japanese and other such affectations, there is no need to go aping them. For instance, Malay, for example, has a perverse and verbose way of representing many plurals: I would have to say that this idea is bollock- bollock.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 27 2011

       //Octopodata are counted in octopus-sized units because, for example, they are caught and eaten (usually) as entire animals.// They are indeed so counted, and they are indeed, caught and eaten in that manner. The flaw in your argument is the unsupported "because." Perhaps they are counted in octopus-sized units for some other reason. Perhaps it's because that is how the language treats them; change the language, and see what happens to the accounting system.   

       (And let's have no nonsense about Sapir-Whorf. The current fashion for trashing it is a reaction against its unquestioned acceptance in overstated form.)   

       //ingeniously flawed// yeah. [+] You should really be voting for this [MB]. Maybe if the title were "Change English to make it harder for foreigners to learn?"
mouseposture, Nov 27 2011

       // "Change English to make it harder for foreigners to learn?" //   

       That's Baked (Pronounced "Ghoti").
8th of 7, Nov 27 2011

       //You should really be voting for this [MB]// Well, I haven't voted against.   

       The problem is, an octopus has eight tentacles, but it also has several hundred suckers, two eyes, a few trillion cells, and a few hundred trillion mitochondria. One might equally, therefore, refer to one octopus as a bignumbermitochondriocyte, or as a biopticon.   

       I think we need to ask an octopus whether it sees itself as an octopus or as a collection of various types of component.   

       There is also the problem that four people, two wallabies or one octopus would all be called the same thing. One person carrying a wallaby would also be confused with an insect, which could in turn be confused with a partially-eaten octopus. I'm not saying that such ambiguity is necessarily a bad thing - it would not be a problem, for example, for a very versatile shoemaker - but it does need addressing.   

       To remedy the problem, an octopus would have to be referred to as "an octopus of octopus tentacles", to distinguish it from a pair of wallabies ("an octopus of wallaby legs"). This, however, introduces the risk of recursiveness, and some sort of ad hoc renormalization scheme would have to be devised again.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 27 2011

       There is a tendency for people to be counted as working central nervous systems, so a brain dead human is not a person, an embryo at the blastocyst stage is not a person, and so on. Same applies to other vertebrates. One reason this might make sense (although as a previous notorious discussion between us revealed, i think it's flawed) is that vertebrate nervous systems are quite centralised. Arthropod and mollusc nervous systems are somewhat different. Cephalopod tentacles tend to work more by reflex than vertebrate limbs (though clearly vertebrate limbs are also partly reflexive). Therefore it makes more sense than it would with vertebrates to count arthropod limbs and cephalopod tentacles as individuals rather than each body as one. This has a precedent in zooids. A strong case could be made to count individual zooids of a bryozoan or hydroid colony as individuals rather than the whole agglomeration.   

       So i'm saying organised unit = individual. And all you need do is count in Greek and Latin.
nineteenthly, Nov 27 2011

       //ask an octopus whether it sees itself as an octopus or as a collection//   

       Consider the (superficially) easier case of asking a human, rather than an octopus, whether it sees itself as one or several. Sperry's callosotomy (split brain) experiments suggest that the non- (language-)dominant hemisphere is capable of answering "two" while the spoken answer is "one." Lynn Margoulis (in pace requiescant) would presumably have argued for further erosion of these identity-boundaries. To say nothing of the pandemonium model of cognition. Hence my proposal for context-dependent rules for counting people. But I'll amend that to context-dependent rules for counting everything.   

       I recently heard the Radio City Rockettes refered to as "72 legs" (for performances in New York, there are 36, by the ordinary way of counting).
mouseposture, Nov 27 2011

       //So i'm saying organised unit = individual.//   

       But, by that reasoning, there is far more reason to describe an octopus as a collection of cells than as a collection of tentacles.   

       The integration within a cell is very intimate - break up a cell and you basically have dead goo.   

       In contrast, the additional levels of interdependency needed to build cells into an organ or a tentacle are relatively trivial, which is why pregnancy and cancer can happen and why you can culture cells in vitro.   

       The yet further levels of interdependency that coordinate the tentacles into an octopus are simpler still.   

       Therefore, if you are going to break an animal down into meaningfull subunits, then it makes no sense to describe an octopus as eight tentacles, but some sense to describe it as a collection of cells. The same is true of bryozoans and other simple organisms - individual cells are viable (sometimes with a bit of coddling), so you can consider them as individuals; or you can consider the whole colony/organism as an individual; but it makes no sense to stop half-way between those extremes.   

       Also, what about elephants? Is an elephant a monoprobiscid, a monocauda, a tetrapode, a bi- lung or a poly-bone? (Speaking of poly-bones...)
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 27 2011

       //Is an elephant a monoprobiscid, a monocauda, a tetrapode, a bi- lung or a poly-bone// Yes. Depending on context.
mouseposture, Nov 27 2011

       Definitely with you on that one, [mouseposture].   

       [MB], yes, you have a point. However, i think it depends on context there too. You might want to think of living things as collections of cells. However, i think it might also depend on a naive apprehension of the organisms concerned. Looking at a collection of polyps, you might see it as a single coral or a colony of polyps. Come to think of it, what interests me about what i've just said is that the word "polyp" is from "polypus", so in fact corals are already plural in an indefinite way, so that's fine.   

       You raise an interesting question though: why do we choose the units we do? Sand is a mass noun and we don't talk about "sands" but "grains of sand", but for some reason we talk about both hair and hairs. I have no idea why. Maybe if our heads were covered in grains of sand we would think differently.
nineteenthly, Nov 27 2011

       What about books? You can have a book, which is published as a set of three volumes, each of which is of course a book. And the book might be divided into five books which are distributed across the three volumes.
pocmloc, Nov 27 2011

       Funnily enough, i tend to think of a multiple volume book as four-dimensional and so i suppose a volume divided into several books could make the jump to hyperspace before it becomes polytomic. A multi- volume work containing several books each would be five-dimensional. Therefore, such a work would be a hypervolume i suppose.
nineteenthly, Nov 27 2011

       //it depends on context there too.//   

       That was exactly my point. The only self-consistent rules are:   

       A) Decide what you want to count
B) Count those things to get a number, N
C) State that you have counted N such things.

       This seems like a simple and workable system, does it not?   

       So, if I'm looking at two octopi and I am interested in octopi as animals, then:   

       A) =Whole octopi
B) =2
C) = "I have counted 2 octopi"

       Or, if I am looking at the same two octopi but am interested in tentacles, then:   

       A) = Tentacles
B) = 16
C) = "I have counted 16 tentacles".

       This system, which is so subtle and complex that only children seem to grasp it intuitively, is equally applicable to the suckers, cells, eyes or mitochondria of any number of octopi. It is, I believe, pretty much foolproof, though not necessarily halfbakerproof.   


       Now, if you want to raise the issue of "hairs/hair" or "waters/water" or "sands/grains of sand/sand", then this is pretty much a different topic, though not so different from the first one.   

       The rule for such cases is:   

       A) If the substance is continuous as perceived and you are referring to one body of the substance, or to the substance in general, then it is called "{substance}" (water; or hair/sand viewed from a distance).   

       B) If the substance is continuous as perceived, but you are referring to two or more independent bodies of the substance, then they are called "{substance}s" (the waters of the great lakes; the hairs of various marsupials; the sands of different deserts).   

       C) If the substance is discontinuous as perceived (sand or hair close up), then it is referred to either as:   

       C1) "an item of {substance}" (if it is seldom considered as discontinuous, and hence the discontinuity needs to be emphasized) - a grain of sand; a molecule of water
C2) "a {substance}" (if it is often considered as discontinuous, and hence the discontinuity need not be emphasized) - a hair.


       There. I think that covers everything.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 27 2011

       This could have prevented some of Bilbo's guests at his farewell party feeling insulted when he said it was a gross of hobbits that he had invited. Particularly the Sackville-Bagginses thought they had just been invited to complete the number. I would like to know what words you would recommend in this particular case.
zeno, Nov 27 2011

       Sorry, [MB], the use of any suffix-based plural for octopus makes me go twitchy. However, on the second bit, octopus, AKA a collection of eight items each called a monopus, is made of "pus", not in the sense of dead leukocytes but in a novel sense akin to the senses of the words "bacon" and "beef". A collection of pus in this sense equals a tentacle plus an eighth of the rest of the organism. This is not entirely silly because although molluscs are generally unsegmented, arthropoda are, so in that sense the word "pod" simply means "half a segment of an arthropod body carrying a leg plus that leg". That's a clear unit which can on the whole be observed by the naked eye. In a way, that's less neat than the octopus example because it's only half a segment and not a slice of pus. So now i come to think of it, unsegmented animals should maybe have different plurals than segmented ones.
nineteenthly, Nov 28 2011

       Sometime I come across a thread that would probably work unedited as a radio programme (akin to an episode of QI but without that programme's tendency towards (a) nob-gags and (b) brazen smuggery). This is one such thread. Well played, gentlemen.
calum, Nov 28 2011

       Perhaps the pragmatic solution is simply to refer to octopus as "a portion".
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 28 2011

       I have to concur with calum. I think QI would work much better if it were chaired by Melvyn Bragg rather than Stephen Fry.

//it also has several hundred suckers//

They wouldn't be interested in buying some payment protection insurance at all, would they?

Also, 'head of cattle' and other such phrases are not phrases that are used in everyday language, they are a form of professional argot. Most people, when they see a field with some cows in it (if they are not too busy texting to pay it any attention at all) would think, "oh look, there are some cows in that field!". Nobody would say "oh look, there are some head of cattle in that field" unless they wanted to be beaten up.
DrBob, Nov 28 2011

       I would also column with canker - escept, I suppose, that I wouldn't mind the game-show adaptation of this thread being hosted by Victoria Coren.
hippo, Nov 28 2011

       This is of course a potential script. Who would you like to play you in the small screen adaptation of this idea, [MB]?   

       [DrBob], that's true in the case of "head of cattle" but not so much in some other cases, for instance we do say "grains of sand", "sticks of celery" and "sheets of paper", and in some other languages it would be ungrammatical not to count things in that manner.
nineteenthly, Nov 28 2011

       //Who would you like to play you in the small screen adaptation of this idea, [MB]?//   

       That's a tricky one. We need to find someone who is a cross between Stephen Fry and Johnny Dep, with overtones of Dylan Moran.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 28 2011

       As MB said, "grains of sand" is used to clarify from sand in the collective sense, ditto all other examples.   

       Collective nouns are well known, and are frequently used in this same manner "murder of crows" to differentiate from a discrete number of crows. This is simply the reverse of that usage.   

       Also, shouldn't it be hexadecAmpus, hexadeci implies dividing by 16?
MechE, Nov 28 2011

       //Johnny Dep//

sp: Johnny Vegas.
DrBob, Nov 28 2011

       Strangely enough, I was once offered the opportunity to play Johnny Vegas on the silver screen.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 28 2011

       Why do we wear a pair of pants but only one bra?
RayfordSteele, Nov 29 2011

       //a cross between Stephen Fry and Johnny Dep,//   

       Max Dep Fry - sounds unhealthy
AusCan531, Nov 29 2011

       Do tell, [MB].   

       [MechE], only if you interpret the prefix in that context as if it's a SI prefix, which wasn't quite what i meant. I was actually thinking of extending it by alternating between hexadecimApus - a collection of female octopus tentacles; hexadecimOpus - a collection of male octopus tentacles, and hexadecimIpus - a collection of octopus tentacles of mixed gender.   

       Which makes me wonder: how is cephalopod sex determined developmentally?
nineteenthly, Nov 29 2011

       A few years ago I saw a TV program about a very closely integrated pair of Saiamese twins - essentially they had one complete body with two heads.
Besides being a completely brilliant thing for actually existing as a functional entity[1], they faced the same issue of countability. For example, they elected to get a driving licence each to be on the safe side. I had to wonder if they had a job whether they'd be able to claim two salaries, and so on.

       [1] This vindicated a SF book I once read, which had a two-headed character.[2]
[2] No, not HHGttG.
Loris, Nov 29 2011

       Brothers of the Head maybe? I think i saw that. There was a more recent case, don't know if you've heard of it, where a pair of twins are linked by a thin line of tissue between their thalami, which enables them to use each others' senses.
nineteenthly, Nov 29 2011

       If one delves into the wealth of background material generated by Tolkien, it becomes fairly obvious that any group of hobbits numbering more than twenty or so is known as a 'pub' of hobbits, but if you extrapolate from the original text of Fellowship, it's reasonable to surmise that Bilbo invited 144 guests to his party simply because a gross of hobbits is actually known as a 'party'.   

       Actually, it's because Bilbo and Frodo shared the same birthdate and 144 was their combined age at the time (111 and 33), but I believe my point stands just the same.
Alterother, Nov 30 2011

       It does indeed, good one.
zeno, Nov 30 2011

       What will you call a centipede times 10?
spidermother, Dec 07 2011

       A kilopede? Or, you consider pede to be two different things, one of which is a pair of legs on a single body segment and the other of which is a radial segment in geometric terms of an anatomic segment which happens to have the same name.
nineteenthly, Dec 08 2011


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