|Re: Formulae or formulas, that's the question (poll)|
Message #27 Posted by Les Wright on 13 June 2012, 6:18 p.m.,
in response to message #1 by Walter B
I am surprised that in this already long thread that no one has noted that there is more than one variety of standard English, depending where one is in the world. I attribute this in part to the blinders of Americocentrism--allow me a clever neologism--in a group dedicated to the discussion of quintessentially American products.
Someone mentioned that words like "archaeology", "gynaecology", "haematology", "aesthetics", "paeon", etc., aren't in his dictionary. Now if we set it aside the fact that static paper dictionaries don't determine the "correct" use of a dynamic language, of course he wouldn't see these spellings in an American dictionary (like, say, the Merriam-Webster) dedicated to only American spelling, meanings, and usage. He would definitely find them in the mother of all dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary, as the preferred British English spellings. (The OED would likely also include American on other variant spellings too, but its hugeness and scope offer that. Anybody here with access to an institutional subscription of the online OED may correct me.)
Other varieties of English tend to be interesting hybrids. In Canada, a high school student who writes "color", "honor", "center", "neighbor", or "behavior" in a research paper is (at least I hope!) going to be docked marks for incorrect spelling. However, we still prefer "criticize" over "criticise" and "apologize" to "apologise", and when I was younger I used to like to sit on the curb and enjoy a smoke rather than sit on the kerb for a fag. I wear running shoes, not trainers, when I exercise, and when travelling (not traveling) I carry my suitcase in the trunk, not my valise in the boot.
As a Canadian, I tend to prefer and regard as correct standard British usage when in doubt (it makes the most sense historically), except in those (many) cases where borrowings from American English have long been standard. This means that certain first declension Latin words like "formula" and "alumna" always take "-ae" in the plural, not the standard English -s. (That said, "partner", "party", "impact", and "trend" will never be verbs to me, even if they have passed that way into standard English all over the world.)
I extend this preference to Latin words of other declensions, too. For example, I peruse and post to numerous internet fora, not forums, and I am always careful to say in scientific discourse "these data show..."--never, ever, "this data shows..."
As for the word in question, I would say that "formulae" is the way to go in UK, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander versions of manuals, and American manuals would likely stick with "formulas". Frankly, if I saw "behavior" and "formulae" on the same page of a "Printed in the USA" calculator manual, I would take the latter as an error, or, at best, some editorial inconsistency and laxity.
This notion of "formulae" being preferred only in scientific contexts is new to me. I am a Canadian of British descent, so I just say and write "formulae" all the time. I tend not to rely on Wikipedia (or, as I like to call it, Wikipaedia) as the last word on matters of language usage, or anything else for that matter.
As an admittedly tangential aside, I like to remind people that the correct plural of "octopus" is always "octopuses", never "octopi", no matter which variety of English one speaks and writes. "Octopus" is from the Greek, and is not a second declension masculine Latin noun that takes -i in the plural, like "alumnus/alumni". Making the plural in the Greek way is "octopodes". And only a pompous twat would ever say that.
Edited: 13 June 2012, 9:00 p.m. after one or more responses were posted