928: Mimic Octopus
This comic is a parody of fish and sea-life identification charts, referencing the mimic octopus which, as the name implies, is able to mimic other animals. The creatures the octupus mimics include tuna, a clownfish, a lionfish, a shark, what appears to be a crinoid, an angler fish, an anchor, a submarine, a scuba diver, multiple fish, and a single octopus.
The Orson Scott Card novel that the title text refers to is Lost Boys: "A withdrawn eight-year-old in a troubled family invents imaginary friends who bear the names of missing children" (Publisher's Weekly). The part of the story that Randall is referring to (Chapter 7, Crickets) involves a situation where the protagonist, Stewie, is given a C grade for an otherwise impeccable diorama featuring underwater animals involving clay sculptures (when only a poster would have sufficed) and a well-written presentation supposedly because the other children had destroyed the diorama before the end of the day. To make matters worse, his teacher, Ms. Jones, had made fun of his project and given the ribbon for first prize to someone else.
On enquiring about, his father, Step, found out that the principal, Dr. Mariner, had already made the decision to hand Stewie the blue ribbon for first prize as she had reviewed the project before it had been destroyed, but Ms. Jones had secretly overruled her behind her back by announcing that another child (JJ) would receive the ribbon. So, the next day he met up with Ms Jones after school to have a word on the grading of his project. Needless to say, they ended up arguing about minor issues, with Mrs Jones justifying the reason for her decision on, among other things, the definition of a 'depiction', whether or not the amount of content was defined by the word count or the number of pages and of the importance of putting the report in a plastic cover. The argument finally comes to a head when Step points out that there was only one red mark on the project report, and that concerned an 'incorrect' pluralisation of the word 'octopus'
- “But Mrs. Jones, surely you know that the plural of “octopus” is either ‘octopus’, with nothing added, or ‘octopuses’.”
- “I think not,” said Mrs. Jones.
- “Think again, Mrs. Jones.”
- She must have realized that she was not on firm ground here. “Perhaps ‘octopuses’ is an alternate plural, but I’m sure that ‘octopi’ is the preferred.”
- “No, Mrs. Jones. If you had looked it up, you would have discovered that ‘octopi’ is not the preferred spelling. It is not a spelling at all. The word does not exist, except in the mouths of those who are pretending to be educated but in fact are not. This is because the ‘us’ ending of ‘octopus’ is not a Latin nominative singular ending, which would form its plural by changing to the letter ‘i’. Instead, the syllable ‘pus’ in ‘octopus’ is the Greek word for ‘foot.’ And it forms its plural the Greek way. Therefore ‘octopoda’, not ‘octopi’. Never ‘octopi’.”
- “Well, then, octopoda. Your son’s paper said octopuses.”
- “I know,” said Step. “When he asked me the correct plural, I told him octopoda. But then he was still uncertain, because my son doesn’t think he knows something until he knows it, and so he looked it up. And to my surprise, octopoda is only used when referring to more than one species of octopus, rather than when referring to more than one actual octopus. What Stevie put in his paper is in fact the preferred dictionary usage. Which you would have known, too, if you had looked it up.”
After proving his case that his son did indeed deserve an A grade, he then threatened to bring the matter to the attention of the principal. He then warned Mrs Jones that while he wanted the grade to remain unchanged, he wanted her to inform the class that the ribbon would be awarded to Stewie, before revealing that he had been recording the conversation all along. And, after this, after Mrs Jones came crying for forgiveness before leaving, Step realised how vulnerable she was and how she was channelling her frustration at one particular student in each class to find some relief from that.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'octopi', 'octopuses', and 'octopodes' (UK English) are all correct plural versions of "octopus." Supposedly, Randall would very much like the word 'octopi' to remain unrecognised by major dictionaries as otherwise it would lessen the magnitude of the climactic conclusion of this argument by rendering Step's mockery of Ms. Jones' perceived intellectual superiority factually invalid.
It should be noted that, at least according to Etymology Dictonary, Octopi is wrong for exactly the reasons that Step lists and first appears over 60 years later.
- Southeast Asian Sea Life
- Identification Chart
- [There are silhouettes of eight individual fish, a school of fish, a scuba diver, an anemone, a submarine, and an anchor, each labeled "Mimic Octopus." There is also a silhouette of an octopus, labeled "Two Mimic Octopuses."]
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