I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. I’m an English nerd. Language fascinates me. I love language so much in fact, that I have begun subscribing to The Language Log, an English language blog that is the brainchild of a few English faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. Today, they had an article that posed the age-old question that has plagued college students everywhere for centuries: What Is The Plural Of Syllabus?
According to the article, the word “syllabus” didn’t even exist initially. The beginning of the word can be traced back to having been improperly transcribed from the original Latin word “syllabos” in early editions of the OED.
So basically, the word exists because the people who are responsible for the Bible of all things English, didn’t proofread. Kind of ironic. Isn’t it? But that’s OK. Who has time to proofread?
Social media and our need to truncate everything into 140 characters or less has led to the complete erosion of proper grammar and spelling anyway. The situation is so beyond repair that we’ve given up teaching English in high school altogether. Exhibit A: The new A&E reality series, Teach: Tony Danza. To quote Olivia, “Yeah. That happened.”
But I digress. Unconvinced by the OED explanation (because why would an English major trust the OED anyway, right?) I knew there had to be an answer to the question that took into account the fact that despite the failed transcription that led to the word’s newer spelling, we had in fact adopted it. My thought led me to e-mail the article to a former professor of mine for his take on the whole thing. His response, which is quoted verbatim below, is shared with his consent.
“The word used to be ‘flutterby,’ but we say 'butterfly.’” People used to say, “a napron” [which morphed into “an apron”] but you’d sound like a fucking idiot if you said, 'Hand me that napron; I want to catch that flutterby.’“
Thanks, Bill. You may not find what you said particularly funny, but those who know you will recognize our favorite character in your writing: Quintessential Bill. Not only can we say, “This sounds like Bill,” many of us, myself included, can hear your voice perfectly in our heads as we read your reply. There is a reason that many of your former students kept such copious notes during your lectures. Sure, we all wanted to do well on the midterm, but we were also frantically scribbling down your off the cuff unexpected one-liners, your “Billisms,” if I may be so bold. You are hilarious, and it is precisely why I sought your permission to post about our exchange on my blog. Thanks for being such a great sport.
However, since your reply did not address the question explicitly, (namely, what is the plural of syllabus?) I can only guess that you are siding with the OED on this one and rendering the question moot. Fair point. For those of us playing the home game, that’s now OED 2, Ryan, 0. Nice work.
I think I will quit while I’m behind.