VIRUSES.

I recently had occasion (in a Wordorigins thread) to make the point that virus has no Latin plural, whereupon the excellent aldiboronti linked to a page that has an exhaustive discussion of that very matter. For practical purposes, all you need is the first line: “The plural of virus is neither viri nor virii, nor even vira nor virora. It is quite simply viruses, irrespective of context.” But the rest is lots of fun.


Incidentally, in investigating the origins of the username “aldiboronti” (short for Aldiborontiphoscophornio, a character in The Tragedy of Chrononhotonthologos: being the most tragical tragedy that ever was tragediz’d by any company of tragedians), I ran across Elizabeth Archibald’s delightful essay [no longer online] on the mad variety of books to be found at Yale:

Nor is Chrononhotonthologos a lone oddity by any means. Another eighteenth-century gem that seems to exemplify the same aesthetic is Xsmwpdribvnwlxy: or, The sauce-pan, tucked away in the stacks of Sterling Memorial Library. And Yale’s collection would be dubiously diminished without Benefit of farting farther explain’d, vindicated, and maintain’d, against those blunderbusses who will not allow it to be concordant to the cannon law, an explosive endeavor of the 1720s. But the astounding breadth of Yale’s collection is hardly limited to its books. Yale’s library offers its devotees a vast collection of periodicals: among the online periodicals alone, there are 157 whose titles begin with the letter X. In such an extensive collection, there is bound to be something for everyone—whether it be the American Poultry Journal or the ominous-sounding Pain Weekly. And naturally, Yale’s reference section is as extensive as its periodicals collection, featuring items like The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings, The Encyclopedia of Amazons, and the Iceland Telephone Directory.

Ah, for the days when I roamed the low-ceilinged aisles of Sterling!

Comments

  1. Interesting, though I am of the opinion that because virus is a neuter noun and ends in –us, it therefore differs from other 2nd declension nouns and should be regarded as an irregular 4th declension. In the absence of any examples of cases other than the nominative shown in Lewis & Short (the book) I am presuming that virus declines the same way as domus. Am I right? Are there really no examples of the plural of the Latin word, virus?
    I used to tune in to the Finnish Latin station, though the station was difficult to find. Is it still broadcasting?

  2. LH. I gave you the same link back last year.
    Eliza. Virus is an s-stem, neuter, 3rd declension noun, like genus or corpus. It has no plural. From Silvius Italicus xi.560 (quoted in L&S): futile virus linguae ‘the futile poison of language’ shows that it is a neuter, and neuter, 4th declension nouns, e.g., cornu, do not end in -s.

  3. Well, it’s definitely neuter, but what declension it is may not be so clear. Most grammar books I’ve seen consider it a second declension neuter that fsr ends in -us. If this is right, the normal rules of the -us paradigm should demand an -i ending, but every neuter word in the Latin language has a nom/acc/voc plural in -a.

  4. Hey LH, thanks for the link to *The Tragedy of Chrononhotonthologos*. Scarcely credible (and tragic withal) that I have tenanted the tentaments of the muses so long without attending to this amusement. Forsooth, a superlative and superfluous frolic with which to sublimate a half hour of this most sartatorial of extra-calendrical days.

  5. Egad, I cloak my pretended elevation with ignominy! For “sartatorial” read “saltatorial.”

  6. Are there really no examples of the plural of the Latin word, virus?
    Really. There are a lot of examples of the word, and they’re all singular. They just didn’t use it in the plural. Therefore it doesn’t make any sense to argue about what declension it is and what plural it should have; there simply isn’t one.
    jim: Sorry; my brain is full of holes and getting leakier.

  7. Jim — pardon my ignorance; but if virus is “like genus or corpus” why would it not pluralize like genera or corpora? I am missing something here.

  8. Jeremy: It could have pluralized like that, but it didn’t. Languages have all kinds of holes and irregularities; that’s why I like them.

  9. As for virii, check out this extremely important thread ;) http://www.livejournal.com/users/3catsjackson/57681.html?thread=225105#t225105
    (Yikes, my posting to that thread looks drunk! Sorry.)

  10. Sorry all, I misremembered. In fact, virus is a 2nd declension neuter noun that ends in -us (rather than -um) and has a singular genitive in -i. No plural, so we don’t know how the plural would end. There are some others: pelagus ‘sea’ and vulgus ‘crowd’ (sometimes masculine). [See Hale & Buck §72b.]

  11. I’m still pissed off about “octopi”. So I refuse to participate.
    And the plural of “doofus” is “doofi”, also. So there.

  12. And how about Zizkæ Romani?

  13. scarabaeus stercus says:

    ‘Tis sad that viri is not the plural of virus as I was told that men were the biggest and the most successful infestation that has occurred on this planet. The Romans must have known this freudian slip when they composed this dead language.

  14. I once described a lady’s man as “viral”. It was actually a mispronunciation during my younger days, but I took credit for a joke.

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