Double Your Fun With These Irregular Plurals!


Next time you dive into a hot plate of spaghetti, take a moment to appreciate each individual spaghetto. The word spaghetti is from the Italian spago meaning "thin rope, twine." It's amazing to think that this beloved, stringy pasta has been a plural all along. Early on in its time in English, spaghetti was spelled "sparghetti," as in Eliza Acton's pivotal 1845 cookbook Modern Cookery, but by 1885 the plural pasta assumed its currently accepted form.


When a person is seen passing by a scene either casually or by chance, they are considered a passerby, but on a busy street, one passerby is just a member of a crowd of passersby. Instead of pluralizing the act of passing, as would the incorrect "passerbys," this clever word pluralizes the passer or passers themselves, indicating that multiple people might be getting a quick glimpse of the same thing.


If you think the plural of "cow" is "cows," that's right. However, kine is also an accepted alternate plural form, and it's the only noun in English whose plural shares no letters with the singular form! From the Old English cy, plural of cu (Old English for "cow"), kine is actually a double double, because it adds the secondary plural element "n" to the previously doubled "y" or "i" sound.


News comes from the Middle French nouvelles, or from the Latin nova meaning "new things." News was originally spelled newis or newes, the plural form of the Middle English newe. The now-standard spelling news was not firmly established until the mid-17th century. When news first entered English in the 1300s, it referred literally to "new things," though this sense is now obsolete. During the 15th century news took on the sense of "tidings" or "an account of recent events." The construction "the news" only entered English in the 20th century.


This handy cutting instrument consists of two blades pivoted together, but by no means is one blade a singular scissor. From the Medieval Latin cisoria, scissors emerged in English as a plural without a singular, describing the cutting tool as a whole entity. The 19th century saw a short-lived slang use of scissors with the exclamation oh scissors!, which was used to express impatience or disgust.


As a noun, dice is the irregular plural form of die, a small cube typically marked on each side with one to six spots and used in pairs for games of chance. From the Middle English dees, an interchangeable singular and plural form, dice was reborn as a verb with to dice meaning to chop something into small die-sized cubes. Some evidence suggests that if you trace the etymology of dice all the way back to the Latin dare meaning "to give," or in this case "to cast," it shares root with our next term.


When we download or research large amounts of data, it's far too easy to gloss over each unique datum. A participle of the Latin verb dare, "datum" is on direct loan from the Latin, meaning "a thing that is given." Today the word represents individual facts, statistics, or items of information, but the plural form data has come to function as a singular mass noun meaning "information" in the general sense.

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