Common octopus on seabed
By albert kok – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Others, such as Alan Sherman, who was was parodying songs while Weird Al Yankovich was just beginning accordion lessons have contemplated the mysteries of pluralizing words. I generally accept the weirdness of English in general without too much difficulties, but there are some idiosyncracies that must be challenged.

I’ve resigned myself to the pluralization of fish. If it’s all one species, the plural is fish. If there are more than one species, it’s fishes. So, if you had 1,000 salmon, you have 1,000 fish. If you have 999 salmon, but one tuna, then you have fishes. You’d think that there would be some defined tipping point. In either case, the average fisherman would focus on the one-thousand first fish that got away. It put all the others to shame.

I’ve always been fascinated by the octopus and even had one as a pet for a while. We got along fine, so while I had him, I never brought up the following, lest it embarrass or offend him.

Octopus is a Latin word derived from a Greek word, but a Latin word, nevertheless. I am an alumnus of several universities (much to their embarrassment). When I am with old classmates, we are alumni, the plural of alumnus. My wife, on the other hand, is an alumna for which the plural is alumnae unless there are males in attendance, in which case together they are alumni. (Chauvinistic Romans!)

So, alumnus, alumni. Octopus, octopuses. Why not octopi?

All of this creates a significant dilemna. Did the Beatles song refer to a single Octopoda, as in “An Octopus’s Garden” or several who were sharing a garden, as in “An Octopuses’ Garden”?

Ringo, feel free to reply and resolve this issue.

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