Tuesday, September 28, 2021

[xknnzgye] octopodes

octopus as a Latin word was coined by Linnaeus in the 1700s.  (Linnaeus wrote science in Latin, more on that later.)  Linnaeus specified octopodis as its Latin genitive case (3rd declension), so its Latin nominative plural is octopodes.

when importing words from scholarly Latin, the English custom is to keep Latin pluralization (and sometimes genitive) unchanged, so octopodes has the best claim to being the correct English pluralization of octopus.

Linneaus did not like the existing Latin word for the animal octopus, polypus, because it referred to a larger group of animals than he wanted.  (how large a group of animals did the Latin term polypus encompass?  squid?  cuttlefish?)  therefore, Linnaeus coined the new word, because being specific about organism names was Linnaeus's thing.  (to do: find sources that this was Linnaeus's reasoning.)  coining new words was common practice for scholarly Latin.

on polypus: in Latin, there seems to have been some disagreement regarding the genitive of polypus: polypi (2nd declension) or polypodis (3rd declension).  it seems polypi was winning, despite that breaking the pattern when Latin imported words from Greek.  perhaps ancient Greeks under Roman occupation resented the Romans mangling their language.  but perhaps not: the ancient Greeks themselves may have disagreed on what declension the original Greek word polypous was, though it seems the pluralization polypodes (corresponding to Greek 3rd declension) was winning over polypoi (Greek 2nd declension).  (to do: find sources documenting this ancient Greek disagreement.)  if all this is true, it's fascinating that, although octopus is a relatively new word, the precursor of the controversy surrounding its pluralization is ancient.  hypothesize that the disagreement has long been between the educated versus those who just need a name for the food they consume.

because polypus was (mostly) Latin 2nd declension, Linnaeus would have needed to be very explicit to decree that octopus was to be Latin 3rd declension, not 2nd (not 4th).  to do: find sources of Linnaeus doing this.  did Linnaeus face opposition on this point from other scholars writing in Latin?  to do: find sources of Linnaeus's peers also writing in Latin about octopodes.

digression: in the (mostly Romance) languages which inherited cognates of polypus as their word for octopus, does their modern word (e.g., Spanish pulpo) now refer narrowly to Linnaeus's octopodes, or to the larger group of animals of the original Latin term?

Linnaeus wrote science in Latin, which was the common for scholarly writing at the time: Systemae Naturae 10th edition, 1753.  however, he was at the tail end of Latin; Newton published Opticks in English in 1704.  what would zoological nomenclature have been like if Latin had died earlier, or if Linnaeus had lived slightly later?  perhaps all Swedish.  what about all the rest of the scholarly stuff for which English uses Latin, e.g., other science, medicine, law?

even though octopodes has the best claim to be the proper English pluralization of octopus, English is what English does, with the language defined by those who use it now, and not by someone writing in Latin 300 years ago.  perhaps the vanguard of proper English on this point are those actively producing English octopus culture now, e.g., those producing and consuming octopus cuisine, and those producing and consuming tentacle porn.

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