How many arms does an octopus have?

August 29, 2008

Sorry to disappoint you, but eight’s the wrong answer.

It only has six. The other two are legs. The rear pair of ‘arms’ are actually legs, which the octopus uses to move about the seabed and to propel itself when it wants to swim. Read more about the latest discoveries at the Times online.

The Octopus. Your six-armed friend.

The Octopus. Your six-armed friend.

The octopus is an amazing beast. They can be trained to carry out complex tasks, as it mentions in the above article. What they don’t tell you is that they have very poor memories. They have to re-learn each task each day. So although your octopus may have been very skilled at removing jam jar lids, it will have to be taught how to do it again the very next day.
So there.
Also, the plural isn’t octopi, and here’s the proof.
www.askoxford.com
English words of Latin or Greek origin have rather unpredictable plurals, and each one usually depends on how well established that particular word is. It may also depend on whether the Latin or Greek form of the plural is either easily recognisable or pleasant to the speaker of English.
Although it is often supposed that octopi is the ‘correct’ plural of octopus, and it has been in use for longer than the usual Anglicized plural octopuses, it in fact originates as an error. Octopus is not a simple Latin word of the second declension, but a Latinized form of the Greek word oktopous, and its ‘correct’ plural would logically be octopodes.
Other words ending in -us show a very varied pattern. Like octopi, the plural hippopotami is now generally taken to be either funny or absurdly pedantic, and the usual plural is hippopotamuses. Common usage appears to indicate a slight preference for termini rather than terminuses, but syllabuses rather than syllabi. Other usual forms include cacti and gladioli, and our files at the dictionary department show scarcely any examples of nucleuses or funguses. (Omnibi is simply a joke, and quite ungrammatical in Latin!)
Among words ending in -um it seems worth drawing attention to the word curricula, plural of curriculum, and warning against confusion with the adjective curricular (as in extra-curricular).

So you learn something new every day. Especially if you’re an octopus.

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2 Responses to “How many arms does an octopus have?”

  1. Danai Says:

    thats interesting, but i thought that octopodes use all of their legs as arms too

  2. silverx10 Says:

    Neat, good stuff fo’ sho!


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