Ever since I learned to read, English has been my renegade lover. She is a rapiered pirate with a pistol in her belt and a stiletto on her sleeve. She moves like a tango, cool-eyed and serious — the scent of the Trade Winds tangled in her hair and the salt of the sea still lingers on her lips. But when she speaks you must listen carefully – her words are full of wit and unexpected – because she is a prankster, a trickster, a conjurer of jests that make her giggle and clap and crinkle her eyes.
“Would you like some more?” she says, the temptress not even hidden in her voice.
“It’s very easy,” she says, sly as the fox.
“All you have to do,” she says, looking away, “Is add an ‘S’ and you will have two, four, ten, even a thousand — if you like.”
And then you try it, and she has you trapped because it’s her game and she made the rules.
We all know the plural of house is houses, but what about mouse — cuz the plural ain’t mouses. It’s mice, like lice is the plural of louse. And it works the same way with a word such as noose. Though the plural is nooses, you can’t do that with tooth, cuz more than one tooth is never called toothes. They’re teeth just like geese is the plural of goose. Then it all goes to hell when there’s more than one moose!
But let’s get serious. No, moose doesn’t get a plural. Why? Who knows? But they’re like several other animals – sheep, swine, deer, bison, shrimp, etc. One sheep, two sheep, ‘nother sheep, ‘nother sheep; it just doesn’t change. It’s as if these particular animals were bad or something. My theory is they pissed Noah off when they were late for the Ark, and he lobbed off their ‘S’ as punishment. Either way, it’s clear: the “add an ‘S’ rule” doesn’t always work. Especially since some singular words sound like plurals right from the beginning, and nobody bats an eye. Look at scissors, pliers and binoculars. They all get the extra ‘S’ before they even need it. And some of those singular plurals start off as pairs. Not like a pair of socks (which is two) but like a pair of pants — which is only one. And I’m not even going to speculate how we arrived at a pair of pajamas.
Then there are other badass words that don’t care if they’re singular or not. They just use the plural and strut around like a bunch of linguistic anarchists — words like criteria, media, data and our old favourite, graffiti. This crew has been wrong for so long everybody thinks they’re right.
Plus there are some pretentious words that don’t bother with the ‘S’ and choose to use an ‘I’ instead because – OOWW! — they’re from the Latin, dontcha know! These are words like fungus and focus and octopus and cactus. Personally, I avoid these words because anyone who drops “foci” or “cacti” into a conversation might as well wear a sign that says “Pompous Ass.” FYI: for all the other pompous asses in the neighbourhood, the plural of hippopotamus is NOT hippopotami. Hippopotamus is a Greek word, so the Latin rules don’t apply. On the other hand, the octopus (also a Greek word) is a smart little cephalopod and snuck into the Latin section when no one was looking.
And from here it just goes nuts. It’s as if the English language got totally wasted one night on Jamaican rum and was dancing around, naming things. The plural of dice is die. The plural of thief is thieves. The plural of aircraft is – heh, heh, heh – you don’t get one. More than one child is children — figure that one out – although it happens again with ox and oxen. Man becomes men and women don’t get a choice. Then, just as she collapses on the sofa, laughing, she says, “Oh yeah! And the plural of person is people.”
So, if you’re studying English as a second language and she’s sitting slumped in a chair with her boots on the table, cleaning her fingernails with a dagger — just do as you’re told! It’s easier that way.