Hibernaculum

matthew b harris

New Member
Hi, I come across a lot of latin-based words during my profession (zoology), so I might ask from time to time what the latin origin is of a plant or animal species name. One word we use a lot is Hibernaculum, which we use to mean a place of rest or shelter than an animal uses to spend the winter. I pluralise this to Hibernacula, (2nd declension neuter?)but every now and again someones uses Hibernacula for the singular and Hibernaculae for plural (1st declension?). I guess the correct useage of these two depends upon the gender of the original noun, so my question is, does anyone know the gender of the original latin noun, and then which declension it follows?

Many thanks, and please bear in mind its 27 years since my last latin exam!
 

Aurifex

Aedilis
Staff member
Hibernaculum is a 2nd declension neuter, as you rightly said. If people are using the -ae ending for the plural they are perhaps simply unaware that the -a ending is already a plural, and assume it is a 1st declension noun. It's worth bearing in mind that in classical Latin the plural form hibernacula was more often used than the singular, even when referring to a single winter-quarters.

Just out of interest, is the English word "data" a plural to you or singular? I'd imagine most of your colleagues now regard it as singular.
 

Exanthematicus

New Member
I've always assumed that data was plural and datum was the singular, but 'data' in common parlance has come to mean both, almost like a 'noncount' noun like water or sugar.

Call me a pedant, but my other bugbear is people using 'Criteria' as a singular, instead of 'Criterion', but I'm guessing that of Greek origin not Latin?

Matt Harris (I've asked for the OP username to be deleted)
 

Arca Defectionis

Civis Illustris
In common parlance where I live, "data" is almost invariably a singular, with the form "datum" avoided altogether and "piece of data" or "point of data" used in its stead. Some very particular professors of mine have insisted that "data" be treated as a plural, but the majority of science professors I've dealt with simply don't care. Scientists tend to be relatively practical people - as long as your writing is understandable, they're usually fine with however you deal with "data." "The data show" and "the data shows" are usually both acceptable. "Datum" and "criterion," I think, sound a little stiff - which is why "criteria," which generally still takes a plural verb form even today, is often used in contexts where "criterion" would technically be correct. Even some scientists feel uncomfortable using "bacterium," and consequently "bacteria" is also acceptable in the singular ("this bacteria...").

Another word that does this in American English is "media." "The media" usually "reports" (singular). Of course the plural form "mediums" is more common than "media" anyways. The "media" is viewed as a single entity, which thus takes a singular verb. I'm guessing this is largely American, seeing as British people talk about collective entities of people with plural verbs ("his family say...", "England are playing tonight") which sounds wrong to the American ear.

As for "hibernaculum," the Latin plural is indeed "hibernacula," but it's also possible to circumvent this whole issue by saying "hibernaculums." As a relatively advanced student of Latin, I know, of course, how to create all the Latin plurals in science - but I nevertheless say "genuses," "nucleuses," "spectrums," "funguses," "appendixes" (over "genera," "nuclei," "spectra," "fungi," "appendices") - I always speak them, and usually write them (but there are occasionally professors who penalize for such Anglicized forms). What's interesting is that it's much less acceptable to do the same thing with Greek plurals. I still say "analysises" and "thesises" sometimes, but never in writing, and "phenomenons" sounds wrong to me. But as far as Latin goes, it's generally perfectly acceptable not to use the Latin plural at all.
 

Aurifex

Aedilis
Staff member
The confusion is quite understandable, especially as it has been suggested that neuter plurals began as 'a' stem collectives anyway.
This reads as a suggestion that the reason why the OP's and Arca's colleagues use hibernacula and data for the singular is that they may be sensitive to the early history of neuter plurals and a-stem collectives. I can't see who else's confusion you are referring to.
 
Top