Is the plural Octopuses or Octopi?

When I was a child, we made frequent trips to the nearby aquarium. The first exhibit down one dark hall — a hall with few escapes — was the giant octopus (just how giant it was is today unclear, but at the time, I thought it was HUGE).

Now, this was not a pretty creature (name the octopus that is) and it seemed to be looking out at us, at me, with its wide eyes. I was certain it was quite angry at being cooped up in that little space, and one day was going to escape and…get me.

My parents were a little amused at this fear, but kept their smiles hidden as they reassured me that simply couldn’t happen. Even if it did get out, they told me, which was nearly impossible, it wouldn’t survive outside of water. In the dry environment, it would be immobilized.

Octopus mimics the cat
“What are you doing out? I told you to stay in the tank!”

Apparently, that isn’t the case at all, although I have no doubt my parents were certain they were telling me the truth. In fact, on one trip, I think they even got aquarium workers to back them up.

As an adult, I’ve heard numerous stories of octopuses escaping from their tanks (most recently Inky of New Zealand, whom, aquarium authorities surmised, escaped out of his tank and down a drain pipe leading to the ocean.) In fact, in an article in “True Activist,” octopus expert Jennifer Mather is quoted from an interview in “Scientific American” as saying, “They are very strong, and it is practically impossible to keep an octopus in a tank unless you are very lucky. Octopuses simply take things apart. I recall reading about someone who had built a robot submarine to putter around in a large aquarium tank. The octopus got a hold of it and took it apart piece by piece.

“There’s a famous story from the Brighton Aquarium in England 100 years ago that an octopus there got out of its tank at night when no one was watching, went to the tank next door and ate one of the lumpfish and went back to his own tank and was sitting there the next morning.”

So not only can they escape, but apparently they’re pretty clever. The Brighton Aquarium lost several more lumpfish before they figured out what was going on.

Aquarium workers acknowledge they need to keep their captive octopuses entertained or they get bored, and who wants a bored octopus? My research revealed many of these captive creatures were injured when they were captured (in a fisherman’s net, perhaps), so some humanity is exhibited in keeping them contained.

But once they are well, it can be argued that holding them in a tank is a compromised existence.

cant see the cat
You can’t see me if I can’t see you!

Which brings me back to my feelings about aquariums today. NO WAY am I going to one with an octopus. Another interesting piece of information I learned in my research for this post? Octopuses have fantastic eyesight. I know if I visit an aquarium, the resident octopus will spot me, far back in the crowd, and decide “this is it, now’s the time. I’m busting out of here and that chick is going to get it.”

Don’t even bother trying to convince me otherwise. I’ve already proven I know more than the grown-ups.

Images © geosap — Adobe Stock

Note: While there is a general consensus in the discussions I read that the word “octopus” is of Greek origin, there was some disagreement about the plural. Some said it would be “octopuses,” while others emphatically stated it should be “octopodes.” One man disagreed with all of that, saying the word actually has it origins in Latin, which would, indeed, make the plural “octopi.”

4 Replies to “Is the plural Octopuses or Octopi?”

  1. This was a fascinating post, Belinda. I had no idea about these strange creatures and hearing about their intelligence made me sad. I can only imagine how scared you were as a child. My terror involved mummies. I’d see them with in the museum and then all night long I was sure one was under my bed. Just writing this invokes that terror – childhood fears are so primal.
    Anyway, thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I got a good laugh when I found out how clever they are — I had long ago come to the conclusion my childhood fear was completely irrational. Of course it’s unlikely one would come after me — unless he/she saw me as a friend. I read a lot about them and they really are fascinating, albeit unattractive, creatures.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I laughed out loud at the resident octupus’ thoughts upon seeing you in attendance. That eyesight must come in handy for them when they’re scouting potential aquarium victims. The Brighton version sounded particularly clever indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

I'd love to hear from you!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: