What Cicero Would Have Said
The Toyota Prius is a very popular car. So popular, some people might actually own two or more. But how do you describe more than one Prius?
The -us ending suggests that Prius may be Latin in origin. Indeed, there is a Latin word “prius”, but it isn’t a proper name or a noun. It is an adverb meaning before. As explained in this earlier post, the plural form of Latin words depends on the case. Second declension Latin words are made plural by changing the -us ending to -i. However, the singular form of fourth declension nouns end in -us but their plural forms also end in -us (with a long “u” instead of a short “u”.
Toyota didn’t resort to Latin to answer the question – it conducted a vote. In 2011, it issued this press release announcing that the plural of Prius was Prii.
How Modern Japan Influenced Ancient Rome
Writing about Japanese cars and Latin calls to mind another conjunction of new and old and Japanese and Roman – bathing and bathroom culture. In Japan, public baths are very popular. In visiting Japan, I’ve enjoyed both Sento and Onsen bath houses (an Onsen is characterized by the use of natural hot spring water). Last summer, I stayed at a hotel in Ito, a major hot springs town in Japan, that featured a bath in a tunnel constructed as an air raid shelter in World War II (see photo below). Public bathing was also highly popular with the Romans. Last summer, I also visited a number of ancient Roman baths, but these were no longer working.
Now there is a movie that explains the connection between ancient Rome and modern Japan - Thermae Romae. This 2012 comedy directed by Hideki Takeuchi is built on the premise of an architect who is carried back and forth between ancient Rome and modern Japan. It may possibly be the only movie ever made with the actors speaking in Latin and Japanese (the DVD comes with the option of Chinese, English and Malay subtitles).
Knowing Latin Can Help Prevent Errors
Knowing that the endings of nouns changes in Latin can prevent some common errors. For example, the Council of Institutional Investors recently submitted a petition for rule making to the Securities and Exchange Commission which included the following assertion:
We believe the reform being requested would result in de minimus changes in costs for proxy contest participants, and that the benefits to the shareholder voting franchise would far outweigh those costs.
The problem is that de is a preposition that in Latin which takes the ablative case. The ablative plural of minimus is minimis. Thus, the CII should be claiming that cost changes would be de minimis. In a future post, I’ll address a far more serious concern with the CII’s petition.