*Who Decides the Plural of Consortium?

Recently, I was editing an article and came across a reference to a consortium, then to another consortium, then (here it comes) to two consortiums.

I didn’t want to futz with it. I liked it fine. And the tendency I’ve seen in some people to go all Julius Caesar when forming the plural of any Latin noun always struck me as a bit much. I’m talking about the people who lunge at the chance to use “memoranda” without even considering whether it should be “memorandums” because, hey, that’s how you’d do it in ancient Rome.

This may be a good way to justify how they spent a couple precious semesters in high school, but it’s not a good policy for forming plurals. In fact, if you did this with memorandum, you’d be making a bad call.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary allows both “memorandums” and “memoranda” as the plural of “memorandum.” But it prefers “memorandums.” And editing styles usually defer to their dictionaries’ preferred forms, in part because it helps ensure consistency. Otherwise, if editors chose whichever correct form they wanted, some would choose “memorandums” and others would choose “memoranda” and a publication that didn’t watch such things could have all kinds of inconsistencies.

So when I saw “consortiums” I really didn’t want to be that editor who gets all Latin happy on a writer’s word choice. But, of course, it’s not my call anyway. So I had to check.

The dictionary I was editing from, Webster’s New World, says the correct plural is “consortia.” So I had to change it. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, however, allows both plural forms, though it prefers “consortia.”

You can use either one you prefer. Just don’t judge an editor too harshly if she changes it on you.

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