Multiocular O.

Multiocular O (ꙮ) was mentioned here back in 2019 (starting with Owlmirror’s comment); I’m giving it its own post because it’s shown up on MetaFilter (ꙮꙮꙮ Be Not Afraid ꙮꙮꙮ) and Eyebrows McGee has provided the following origin story:

Most Proto-Indo-European languages had a grammatical number for nouns between the singular and plural called the dual. That is, we have “cat” and “cats,” but most PIE languages had a special form for things in pairs. A lot of Celtic and Slavic languages preserve at least some dual forms. […] (In Slavic languages, a really common dual form, even in languages that have otherwise dropped it, is “riverbanks.”)

ANYWAY, in some Old Church Slavonic manuscripts, where a dual form was used (most often to say “two”), the scribes would turn “two” — двое– into двꚙе with the “double O” glyph.

Some OTHER scribes thought this was amazing, so specifically in the word “eyes” — “очи” — which is a dual-form noun because they typically come in twos, they’d use the “double monocular O” (Ꙭ, aka “boobs”) to make two Os and turn them into eyes, thus: ꙭчи. See? TWO EYES!

WELL. ANOTHER scribe comes along and says, “two eyes? Seraphim have MANY eyes!” and when he comes to the phrase “many-eyed seraphim (Серафими мн҄оочитїи), he chooses to render it as “Серафими мн҄оꙮ҄читїи҄”. CAUSE THEY’VE GOT A LOT OF EYES, y’all.

ONE TIME. This occurs ONE TIME in ONE MANUSCRIPT, but Unicode is dedicated to making sure manuscripts can be replicated accurately in unicode, so in 2008 we get a multiocular O.

BUT IT GETS EVEN MORE AWESOME, because they’re updating it to the full 10!. Although do look at the manuscript and note that the original 10-eyed multiocular O has FLAMES LICKING OUT ON THE SIDES, so Unicode should get on that!

Anyway, I 100% approve of literally all of this, because there is nothing I love as much as TAKING A JOKE WAY TOO FAR, especially when the joke is more than 600 years old.

It’s a great story, and I certainly hope it’s all true, including the ten-eye update.


  1. The 10-eye update is in the “Errata Fixed in Unicode 15.0.0” page, so looks like it’s official.

  2. January First-of-May says

    Most Proto-Indo-European languages

    …that’s not how you terminology. If I had a MF account I’d comment right back at that, though MF being the place it is I suspect someone already did.

    Weirdly enough I don’t think I’ve seen that particular goof before even though it seems pretty obvious.

  3. You’re right, I don’t recall it either! But cut her some slack, she’s leaving an excited blog comment, not writing for publication. I’m sure she knows the difference perfectly well.

  4. Does anyone know what exactly is the Slavic word for “riverbanks” that preserves dual forms, and in which language? (In Czech and Polish, old dual forms are used for hand, eye, ear and the numeral two, but riverbanks most likely not.)

    And the bit about a lot of Celtic languages preserving duals also sounds suspect, I don’t recall seeing any duals in my limited encounters with Irish or Welsh. Are there really modern Celtic duals?

  5. I presume Russian берега (pl.) is from the OCS dual брѣга (the plural was брѣѕи).

    Are there really modern Celtic duals?

    I don’t think she means the modern languages preserve the category but that there are isolated forms that continue the old dual.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    Welsh has a few forms like dwylo “hands” (though you can use this for more than two hands in these degenerate modern times.) This and similar forms are transparently compounded with the first element “two.”

    I think the only thing that really still survives in Welsh that originated in the dual is the soft mutation after both the masculine and feminine forms of dau/dwy “two” along with the soft mutation of dau/dwy itself after the article: y ddau geffyl “the two horses.” Middle Welsh had soft mutation of adjectives after nouns of either gender preceded by “two”, as well.

    It seems to me to be pushing it to describe all this as survival of dual forms, really.

  7. Sure, but again: excited blog comment. She’s probably hastily summarizing half-remembered background info in her eagerness to get to the Ꙭ EYES.

  8. Somebody should warn her that a tsk-storm is about to break, coming from this direction.

  9. David Marjanović says

    Oh, are the masculine -á plurals (города… and more recently директора, профессора) former duals?

    MF being the place it is I suspect someone already did

    Nobody has; but do read the rest of the thread!!!

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    do read the rest of the thread

    Indeed. I particularly liked:

    I mean, the Biblically Accurate Angels always say “Be Not Afraid”, but it never works.

  11. David Marjanović says

    In that case I should quote these two related comments:

    “They should keep adding eyes. With increasingly implausible and anxious justifications.”

    “While simultaneously reassuring the public that nothing unusual is happening.”

  12. Portuguese, being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Slavic—or is it Welsh?—Empire, thumbs its nose at lesser Romance languages by maintaining a gendered duality for the number two: duas and dois. °j°

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    Welsh does it for “three” and “four” too …

  14. This also says a lot about how Unicode has evolved in its attitude to variants. When I was working with Unicode in the late 20th century, the big thing was the Han unification project, which tried to unify variant characters in East Asia by considering them different glyphs representing the same orthographic unit. When I complained I would be told that this kind of thing should be handled in the font. Judging from this it looks like they’ve changed 180°. Or more like 540°.

  15. Before even getting into Slavonic, it does appear to be true that while seraphim are authoritatively described by the Holy Tradition of the Church as “six-winged” (ἑξαπτέρυγα)* they are also described as “many-eyed” (πολυόμματα), without any further specification as to exactly how many eyes. Maybe there is seraph-to-seraph variation? Does our resident Calvinist ophthalmologist know of any specialist literature on the topic?

    *A particular liturgical object (“ceremonial fan,” sez the internet) that traditionally bears the image of a single seraph can be called, in certain churchy registers of English, a hexapterygon, with the plural I suppose being -ga. They typically come in pairs. When they were a bit younger my daughters were sometimes assigned to carry them outdoors in procession at the Easter midnight service.

  16. David Eddyshaw says

    Does our resident Calvinist ophthalmologist know of any specialist literature on the topic?

    Alas, we Just Don’t Know.

    [Stephen Potter advocates this response by medical professionals as a technique for maintaining One-Upness. It should be preceded by a slight but noticeable pause, and is the recommended reply to any question whatsoever, no matter how straightforward.]

  17. Breton can pluralize duals.

    Ꙩ, ꙨꙨꙨꙨ/ꙮ, Ꙭ and ꙬꙬꙬꙬ.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    Super lapidum unum septem oculi sunt …

    Eyes are all very well in their place.

  19. I wonder if entomologists can be convinced to write the word “ommatidia” as “ꙮmmatidia”. I suppose “ommatidium” can remain as it is.

    Maybe also “ꙮcelli”.

  20. Does anyone know what exactly is the Slavic word for “riverbanks” that preserves dual forms, and in which language?

    The Mike Gayles novel Half a world away has been translated into Slovenian as Dva bregova, ena reka (“Two banks, one river”). From Wiktionary’s declension for breg, we see that the nominative bregova is definitely dual.The equivalent plural would be bregovi.

    This fits with Hat’s remark about Russian берег, concerning which Wiktionary offers a note: “The irregular plural берега́ is actually an old dual form, since rivers have two of them.” But then, Slovenian is unusual in maintaining a productive dual.


    Ach, ommatidion is a delicious word. Brings back memories of Biology 101, decades ago. Greek ὄμμα (“eye”, poetic).

  21. David Eddyshaw says

    Ommatidia was the scheming but ultimately ill-fated sister of the praetorian prefect C Ommatidius Strabo. (The form of the gentilic is interesting: as Ronald Syme points out, it shows that the Ommatidii were among the non-Roman Italians brought to power by Augustus’ Roman Revolution,)

  22. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I was hoping that one of the Irish folk would come along to comment on Goidelic duals, but I think it’s still there – I would have phrased it inelegantly as having to get to three before you hit the plural!

    Aon duine, dà dhuine, trì daoine

  23. Wiktionary offers a note: “The irregular plural берега́ is actually an old dual form, since rivers have two of them.”

    Interestingly, Wiktionary also marks the -a ending in города as irregular, yet without remark about the dual origin. It seems probable that the Russian -a nominative plurals originate from old dual forms, but I wonder if there is some rule deciding which nouns have inherited the dual ending and which not. That some things naturally appear in pairs is apparently not the full story, as it does not work well for cities or professors.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    “Bank” of a river in Kusaal is nɔɔr, literally “mouth”, so the idea of duality obviously doesn’t bulk large in the local conceptual scheme for riverbanks. (But then AFAIK exactly zero Niger-Congo languages have a dual anyway.)

  25. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Cities appear naturally in pairs only if they are on the two banks of a river.

    (London and Westminster are presumably unnatural, which is fine.)

  26. January First-of-May says

    That some things naturally appear in pairs is apparently not the full story, as it does not work well for cities or professors.

    AFAIK the a-plural for professors (and doctors, volumes etc.) is an early-20C expansion of a previously less frequent pattern. For some other words the a-plural is (still) considered to be slang.
    Korney Chukovsky reports a mid-20C colloquial innovation that used this plural for most 2nd declension nouns and even the occasional 3rd declension; apparently this was a brief fad from a particular period, because it doesn’t recur in later accounts.

    I’m not sure what happened with cities; IIRC that one’s older.

  27. What is the status of vorotá ‘gate’ as opposed to the official voróta? Is it rustic, colloquial, slang, what?

  28. Aon duine, dà dhuine, trì daoine

    I thought that Gaelic used singular after numerals, like Welsh.

  29. Irish doesn’t use the plural with numbers. Some nouns have a special form but most use the singular (with initial mutation depending on the number mod 10). And people nouns use different numbers. And aon is generally not used for 1 = 1, though it is for 1 mod 10.

  30. PlasticPaddy says

    Just go high enough–fiche punt/euro (deich bpunt = not high enough, beware dhá phunt is fiche).

  31. What is the status of vorotá?

    Colloquial, most probably. How else are you suposed to say “пришла беда — отворяй ворота”?

    Nowadays, instead of the Holly Bible and cherubim with seraphim we have Standard Model and octets and decuplets.

  32. How else are you suposed to say “пришла беда — отворяй ворота”?

    Sure, I can see when it has to be used in proverbs like that, but proverbs have a lot of forms and words that aren’t used in normal discourse. What I was wondering about was how people used it in ordinary speech. I often run across the word in dialogue and wonder whether I should imagine the character using the official penultimate stress or the marked one.

  33. @LH, people just don’t use this variant around me.

    Даль associates vorotá with… acking (or aking? акающие), that is south-western dialects and voróta with ocking north-eastern dialects. (His terms for acking and ocking are высокий говор and низкий говор)
    -á first:
    vorotá south, west or voróta north, east”

    Grot’s unfinished dictionary (1891):vorótá (both variants)
    The dictionary of the Academy (1789): voróta.

  34. Thanks, that’s very helpful! I’ll stick to the official stress, then. (I like высокий говор and низкий говор.)

  35. I like them too. In English accents can be described in terms of size as well: “broad”:) (links: 1891, 1789 (digitized variant))

  36. I also like how both dalekó and daléko (pronounced as dalyóko) remained in use thanks to poetry and songs (Dahl also associates one with высокий and one with низкий говор).
    Songs: raskinulos’ móre shiróko / i volny bushúyut vdali / tovarishch, my yedem dalyó-o-oko… (one of the most famous Russian songs ever) and prekrasnoye dalyóko (from a children sci-fi film from 80s : a whole generation of boys fell in love with the heroine).
    Poems: poslushaj, dalyóko na ozere Chad…

  37. Poems: poslushaj, dalyóko na ozere Chad…

    In case this was before your time at LH: my translation.

  38. David Marjanović says

    na ozere Chad

    Oh, so no amendment of the original sources is actually necessary to make the Battle on Lake Peipus happen on the shore instead of on the ice…

  39. @LH, wow, thank you!!!!

    @DM, in Russian ледовое побоище или битва на Чудском озере.

    Weirdly, one verstion of the etymology of Chud’ (the Russian name for northern Finnic tribes) is the very same teuto- (it were the Teutonic knights who fought the battle…).

    See here ťuďь, but the etymology is a mess and the initial consonants of Slavic words are messy too. And ethnonyms can be absolutely anything.

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