Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Asking questions

Addenda agenda corrigenda memoranda propaganda pudenda...

The time has come, unfortunately, for the pointless, annoying, never-ending discussion about the plural of THE R WORD.

Let's take as our starting point  The Speech of Cicero for Aulus Cluentius Habitus:

This referendum ad populum ["the putting of a question to the people"] was soon abridged to plain referendum; but the phrase shows that the word was, in Latin, a gerund. Now I'm not going to argue that English has to follow the rules of Latin. That ridiculous notion has long plagued studies of English. But to quote one distance learning site:
Forming the gerund: The gerund is formed much the same way... . All gerunds are considered neuter nouns and there is NO nominative case and NO plural form.
OK, there is no plural of referendum  in Latin; so how do we form it in English? There is little doubt about how plurals are formed in English. In most cases (and I wonder how to quantify that mosthmmm) the rule is simple: add an s. Phonologically it's not quite that simple: dependent on what's being pluralized, you add either /s/ or/z/ or /i:z/ or /ɪz/. But there are quite a few exceptions: sheep/sheep, man/men, ox/oxen, basis/bases...

Then there are foreign borrowings: Latin – medium/media, Greek  – criterion/criteria, Hebrew seraph/seraphim... as many as the language has borrowed, and as many as will be borrowed....This gives many opportunities for linguistic snobbery:

My dear, did you hear that? 
"Criterions" – Where did HE go to school?

Naturally, in the face of this, hypercorrect forms such as criteriaare common. People think they should use the foreign pluralizer, but  the native one interferes. And sometimes a foreignified version becomes so commonly used that it becomes standardized. This seems to be what has happened to referendum. It wasn't until I started researching for this post that I came across this:

Well as long as I live I'll keep saying referendums. But I'm afraid the feeling that "formal" contexts call for a parade of ignorance is gathering momentum

Here's a crossword clue:

Exaggerated merits of left-hand page in old wrapper – (8)

Update 2016.10.11.16:50 – Time's up: OVERSOLD

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