End of Feb. 26 Column (No. 918)
This and That 

Invariants: Who Knew There Was A Word For It

Every day I do Elevate, a “brain exercise” program. Every few days, it reminds me how badly autocorrect has affected my ability to spell. Today, the word aircraft was offered, with the question of how to spell the plural. Well, duh, aircraft.

So I looked for a list of such words, and found the longest list of invariants here.

I know there are present and former editors and copyreaders among my readership, and it would not surprise me if you had occasionally pondered the question of invariants. But I would be willing to wager that none of you knew there was a word for it.


Clark Smith

I'm pretty sure the singuar of "dice" is "die," not "dice" as in "the die is cast.". However, I am reminded of the Country Joe and the Fish album board game instructions, the first of which (apparently unaware of whatthe singular might be) is "Buy two dice and throw one away."

Which also summons to mind the David Sedaris story in Me Talk Pretty One Day, about never being able to remember the gender of various French singulars. His workaround was to buy two of everything: deux poulets, deux tomates. "Then one day I came home with two typewriters, and I knew I had to leave Paris."

Clark Smith

I'm surprised that the list does not include asparagus and spinach. Interestingly, in French, these are not invariates. One speaks of les asperges and les épinards, literally asparaguses and spinaches.

Robert E. Malchman

The "die" in "the die is cast" refers to a machine die, as in "Cambridge Tool and Die," not the cube you roll in Vegas. But in either case, "die" is the correct singular, with "dies" and "dice" the respective plurals.

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