Saturday, June 22, 2013


Poor Plus

Henry Newbolt, My World As In My Time: Memoirs of Sir Henry Newbolt 1862-1932 (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1932), pp. 150-151:
But it is to sheer gallant ingenuity that we owe the best howlers. A kindly examiner will always admire the young victim, who when he finds himself with his back to the wall and without an arrow in his quiver, seizes the nearest stick and improvises one, with careful attention to every rule of the arrowsmith's trade. He will not find his mark, but he will have had 'a shot at it'. A perfect example of this fell to my lot. 'Parse, conjugate, decline, or compare the following words', said the question, and among the words was the common but peculiar one 'plus'. Being quite ignorance of the scantiness of this word's wardrobe, my candidate determined to do his best for poor Plus. His courage took my breath: with surprise, incredulity, rapture, I followed his perfectly logical operations. From the full-dress nominative Plus pla plum, accusative plum, plam, plum, he went right through to the genitive plural plorum, plarum, plorum, and ended with the exquisitely conscientious 'dative and ablative plibus or plis'. That is exactly how the Latins ought to have clothed their language, but they happened to mislay their pattern. Jones minor was more careful and I felt that he deserved marks for his judicious restoration.
One must know Latin to appreciate the humor. Jones minor declined plus as if it belonged to the first and second declensions, but it belongs to the third.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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