Mighty Red Pen

January 28, 2008

A fora for forums

Filed under: Word wars — mighty red pen @ 5:49 pm
Tags: , , ,

This urgent, grammar-related question comes from Nikita:

What’s the correct way to pluralize “forum”? Overwhelmingly I hear “forums,” but I just read something that used “fora” and now I’m fascinated. What’s your take?

I was pretty certain that this was an issue of common usage, which is to say, the plural of forum is supposed to be fora, but over time, we’ve all just become comfortable using the word forums. I, for one, would not correct a piece that came across my desk to say fora instead of forums.

Digging around for some information, I uncovered Pain in the English, a hard-core discussion site for extreme grammarians. The conversation was pretty much all over the place, even veering into a discussion of the plural form of octopus, but I’m going to try to keep us on track here.

One commenter wrote,

Since hardly anyone actually uses “fora” as the plural of “forum”, I tend to regard it as a bit pretentious when it gets thrown into a conversation.

What rapidly became clear as I read the, oh, five thousand comments generated by the question, was that the rule is inconsistently applied across words that have the same -um ending. For instance, I would say curricula but would also say stadiums.

The Columbia Guide to Standard English offers that both are accepted, with forums being by far more commonly used. American Heritage doesn’t opine either way but lists forums first.

Well-documented that at times like these I like to turn to the wisdom of Fowler. He divides words that end in -um into three categories:

1. that now always use -ums, either as having completed their naturalization (as it is hoped the rest may do in time); 2. that show no signs at present of conversion but alays use -a; 3 that vacillate, sometimes with a differentiation of meaning, sometimes in harmony with the style of writing, and sometimes unaccountably.

He counts forums in this first category. He concludes sweetly:

In deciding between the two forms for words in the third list, it should be borne in mind that, while anglicization is to be desired, violent attempts to hurry the process actually retard it by provoking ridicule.

So with Fowler’s blessing, I believe that we can safely continue to use forums without fear of ridicule. Cause we wouldn’t want that now, would we?

8 Comments »

  1. I am loathe to disagree with the esteemed Mr. Fowler, but honestly feel I have no choice. Nine long, painful years of Latin have pounded into my head that words of Latin origin, adopted entire into English, retain their Latin plurals.

    I don’t suppose I can sell you on the pure beauty of stadia?

    Next you’ll be arguing against the subjunctive of contrary to fact. If you were to do that, I would lose all faith.

    Comment by David — January 29, 2008 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

  2. I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist this post, David!

    You know I’m all about subjunctive of contrary to fact. But stadia? Not so much. Is there anyone out there who actually uses that word? Or the above-mentioned fora? I’d be interested to know

    Comment by mightyredpen — January 29, 2008 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

  3. I’m almost in agreement with David, but not quite. What we need to remember is that we aren’t talking latin. We are talking English. Therefore the speakers natural instinct is to apply English grammar rules to words of foreign origin.

    Stadia is a great word and I would hate for it to become unaccepted but think of it this way: you wouldn’t say, “look at all those Rucksacken” (deliberate capital) or “can I order two pizzi?”. You would rightly say “rucksacks” and “pizzas”.

    Comment by Gez — February 1, 2008 @ 10:20 am | Reply

  4. *speaker’s (I feel sick)

    Comment by Gez — February 1, 2008 @ 10:21 am | Reply

  5. Gez has a point.

    He’d even be right.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that I had to take so much Latin. I want to be able to use it. Don’t take that way from me.

    If you were to take it away from me, I would cry enough tears to fill all the stadia in the world.

    Comment by David — February 1, 2008 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

  6. So are you guys saying you actually use the word stadia?

    I’m tempted to go to the pizza parlor and order “two pizzi, please!” next time.

    Comment by mightyredpen — February 1, 2008 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

  7. […] discussions about the correct plural of forum itself — is it forums or fora? — as have some language blogs and other sites. Latin plurals are evidently a popular topic. Some of the commentary is […]

    Pingback by Forums, forum, fora « Sentence first — February 2, 2010 @ 7:32 am | Reply

  8. “pizza” is feminine so the plural is “pizze”.

    Comment by goofy — February 3, 2010 @ 10:09 am | Reply


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