September 18, 2009

gladioli but not octopi

Let's continue with the flora theme. I recently came across this passage in Lorrie Moore's new book "A Gate at the Stairs," which is set in a college town in the Midwest:
"Well, sometimes she came to the market with her snapdragons. And gladioluses. People here called them 'gladioli,' which annoyed her."
"Yes," said Sarah, smiling. "I don't like that either."
Not to be nitpicky, but how likely is it that the owner of a fancy French restaurant (Sarah), you know, the kind of restaurant that serves gougères to the farmers' market crowd for breakfast, would find fault with the correct plural of a word of Latinate origin? I'd understand it if she had chosen octopi as a plural educated people find fault with. Octopus is a word from Greek, and as such the proper learned plural form is octopodes, not octopi. (The simple English plural octopuses is also appropriate, of course, and it might sit better with those who don't like gladioli.)

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