Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bringing Home Some Plurals

This popped up recently, and I batted it around. The correct plural of the baseball term “RBI” (“run batted in”) is “RBIs,” even though the word that’s plural when it’s spelled out (“runs”) is at the start of the initialism. This does NOT mean that we’re actually saying “run batted ins.”

It just doesn’t work that way. By the same reasoning, why would more than one “IOU” be “IOUs” — there is NO plural in the expression “I owe you,” unless it’s more than one “you,” which is still “you.”

Fortunately, there are other examples of this sort of thing, as pointed out in “Garner’s Modern American Usage.” The plural of “WMD” (“weapon of mass destruction”) is “WMDs.” If you have been using “WMD” as the plural, you probably are one of those folks who feel strongly that “RBI” also is correct.

The other common one is “POWs” for “prisoners of war.” If you have been insisting on usage such as “there are still thousands of POW,” you probably will never change no matter what I say.

For the rest of you, form the plural of an initialism or an acronym by adding “s” — no matter what it stands for.

In general, other than in science- and math-related fields, simple, Americanized (or Anglicized) plurals of adopted “foreign” words are best. In most other instances, then, use “indexes” instead of “indices,” “appendixes” instead of “appendices,” “formulas” (not “formulae”), “spectrums” (not “spectra”), “funguses” (not “fungi”), “cactuses” (not “cacti”) and “octopuses” (not “octopi”).

Some additional considerations, mostly inspired by (or lifted from) “Garner’s Modern American Usage” by Bryan A. Garner:

The word “indices” is considered “permissible in the sense ‘indicators.’ ” Why not just use “indicators,” then?

Webster’s gives either “fungi” or “funguses” for the plural, implying that they’re equally acceptable. Again, I vote for the consistency of “funguses,” if for no other reason than not having to decide how to pronounce “fungi.”

The dictionary also offers both “cactuses” and “cacti,” but unless you’re a botanist, stay with “cactuses.”

As for “octopi,” Garner says that’s not even correct in its language of origin. He says the proper Greek plural is “octopodes.”

As I’ve said before, once English “borrows” a word, it often gets customized. In this case, “octopuses” grabs me, “octopi” doesn’t.

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