Linguistic Folk Wisdom—Knuttink Gnu & Underda Sun SpecGram Vol CLXXXVII, No 3 Contents The Journal of Lockdown Linguistics (International Edition)—Announcement from Panini Press

The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective

Are you in a world of linguistic hurt? The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective (SLAC) will offer you empirical, empathic, emphatic advice you can use!*

Remember, if you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, then you don’t need advice! So, if you need advice, trust usand cut yourself some SLAC!


Dear SLAC,

Thanks ever so for the recent advice column on focus. All this while I’ve been pluralising it as feces (pron: [fekes]) on analogy with man~men and ox~oxen. Anyway, as a health conscious diner with an obsession for half-rhymes, the column got me thinking: what’s the plural of couscous?

—Veggie Val

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Veg,

As you are no doubt aware, standard practice in English is to derive the plural of loan-words from the source language. However, in Arabic, couscous is a word that is not used in polite company, so I daren’t ask.

—SLAC Unit #50657465

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Veggie Tales,

Couscous is a mass noun, since, if you eat too much of it, you’ll gain mass. Therefore, it doesn’t have a plural. Simples.

Yours gorgingly,
—SLAC Unit #4a6f6e617468616e

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Vegetative State,

It is somewhat unclear. Some have argued that as an obvious reduplicative, the plural is cousescouses [kusizkusiz]. As you may know, it is often eaten with several different cheesescheeses and in traditional societies from a wooden plate balanced on one’s kneeseskneeses. Others, however, have argued that as an uncountable noun, couscous has no plural. If you wish to speak of many units of the mass, it’s on analogy with grain(s) of rice and carton(s) of milk. In the case of couscous, the unitising noun is couscousette(s) thus:

A: “I’ll have a platter of 743 coucousettes of couscous, please waiter.”
B: “Sorry, madam, we only have one couscousette of couscous left”
A: “Come along, Marmaduke; we’re leaving!”

—SLAC Unit #4465616b

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Veg-head:

Most of the better sort of speakers of English will tell you that, as with all such plurals from that general part of the world, the pattern is couscous-couscodes, but this is only when it is treated as a mass noun of which there are several typestruly a situation to be envied. However, when its granularity is taken into account, it follows the pattern most English speakers are far too stupid to handle, kudos-kudous. Thus, if referring to one grain of it, that is properly a couscos.

—SLAC Unit #4d696b61656c

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Vegetal Virgin,

English is all-consuming, so whatever the heck the plural of couscous is now, you can sure it will be Englishified and regularized to within an inch of its life in a few decades. The obvious outcome is couscouses, but English is also ficklejust ask tamalthus coo-coo coucou isn’t entirely out of the question. So, if you are not confident in your ability to pluralizeoh, here’s another fact about English: say whatever the heck you want with enough confidence and it pretty much becomes grammaticalmaybe you should just wait it out.

In the meantime, stop it with the antediluvian old-fogey questions and let me drop a linguohipsterific hand-crafted free-range truth bomb on youand probably get on the last nerve of the SpecGram Typographical Interns in the processby letting you in on the etymology of couscous. It comes through Arabicboring! (except for a certain slang usage we dare not discuss, though you’ve probably never heard of it)from Ouargli (you’ve probably never heard of that, either), a Berber language written in Tifinagh (again, you’ve probably never heard of it): ⵙⴽⵙⵓ (seksu). Now that’s interesting!

—SLAC Unit #54726579

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Valency Changing Operation,

I must recant my previous hearsay-based reply. I’ve uncovered a wealth of recent research (e.g., Himpleton-Smythbury 2018) showing that the first recorded use of couscous was in Rotherburp’s Dictionary of Fantastic Lemmas in 1932. Rotherburp cites his own parrot as having produced the form “Couscous for dindin” on 2nd April 1931 just outside Tangiers where Rotherburp and his mistress were wintering with the English rugby team. What is less well known is that Rotherburp had taught his parrot to reduplicate any syllable with a CVC structure (he’d started with kiss-kiss and therein lies a taletale for another telling). This allows us to assume the original wordword was cous which, in turn assuming an underlying waw and an initial qaf in the Arabic, and on analogy with nur~anwar gives us the most likely plural of aqwas.

Hope that helps!
—SLAC Unit #4465616b

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Valued and Valiant Val,

While it is true, as SLAC Unit #4465616b notes in his rather sloppy (hasty?)** and incomplete response to your inquiry, that Rotherburp was the first to record the use of couscous, the first mass use of the word-word (please note the appropriate spelling includes a hyphen) was recorded in 1957 at the Boston Garden where 15,000 ebullient fans chanted their love for Bob ‘Cooz Cooz’ Cousy who brought the Celtics their first NBA Championship that year. In addition, the first popular recording of the word was carved into vinylagain, in 1957at the Upper East Side NYC-based Mohawk Records studios. The resulting song, All My Coos Coos I Send to You, by Paulie Fantail and The Pigeons, is still widely considered the apex of the Doo Wop years. And, finallyapologies for the clean up here, but someone has to step inthe word-word found its way to the literary world when Ken Keezee introduced his magnum opus One Flew Over the CousCous Nest (the spelling was changed when the Arabic slang usage of the word was revealed).

I would think we now understand the massive impact of the word. I humbly submit that my extensive knowledge which I bring to this matter need no further modifications. And, of course, I (and my attorneys) kindly request (my attorneys say “require”) that any usage of the above scholarship adequately refer to (and remunerate) me.***

—SLAC Unit #4a6f65

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Ritchie Valens,

By law, couscous is its own plural, or technically the plural of cous.

Historically, couscous was the dual form. In general, pluralization was achieved by using the singular form as the base of a unary numeral system. In most cases, this was a workable solution. If you went to the egg shop, you might order eggeggegg, but you weren’t going to eat 184 eggs.

When a Moroccan restaurant invented couscous, the flaw in the system became obvious. Customers rattled off an uncountably large number of couses so quickly that waitstaff had to ask them to slow down and order one cous at a time as they used tiny tongs to carefully serve each individual grain. The food was delicious, and each night the line out the door grew longer. It was inevitable that eventually a fight would break out as the people in the back of the line angrily questioned whether the person at the head really needed that 573rd cous or whether the line could advance. After a particularly bloody fight, the king declared that couscous would refer to a full serving and that anyone ordering a third cous would be exiled to Italy, where the pasta is big.

—SLAC Unit #56696e63656e74

P.S. If you’re going to Morocco to try couscous, I’d recommend taking the ferry.

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Valet,

Couscous being, as it were, underfed pasta, the only plural that can make it culinarily worthwhile is noodles.

—SLAC Unit #4b65697468

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Val,

SLAC Unit #4b65697468 is coo-coo.

—SLAC Unit #4d61726b

✢ ✢ ✢

Dear Valyrian,

SLAC Unit #4b65697468’s response about noodles made me realise that noodles are simply undetached starchy parts; the plural is, of course, gavagai.

—SLAC Unit #4a6f6e617468616e

* Advice is not guaranteed to be useful, practical, or even possible. Do not attempt at home. Consult a doctor (of linguistics, philology, orin a pinchanthropology) before undertaking any course of treatment. This advice is not intended to cure or treat any disease or condition, inherent or contingent. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, except when it is not. “Empirical” means that we asked at least two other “people” whether our advice was good; one or more of those “people” may be voices in our own heads. “Emphatic” means that you may print out a copy of the advice for personal use in a medium, semi-bold, bold, heavy, black, or ultra-black weight of an italic or oblique typeface using an enlarged font size. “Empathic” means that deep down, in the darkest recesses of our blackest heart of hearts, we really, really care ♥just not necessarily about you.

** It was not an English rugby team, it was the New Zealand All Blacks. Rotherburp’s avian colleague was a macaw, not a parrot. The initial qaf was in Persian, not Arabic.

*** The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective’s lawyers would like to remind SLAC Unit #4a6f65 that, since we are a Collective, any usage of the above scholarship should refer to us and any remuneration should be sent to us. SLAC Unit #4a6f65 will receive the same fair share as any contributing member of the Collective of his seniority, which is to say, about 0.000­000­000­000­000­000­000­000­0001%, ± 0.000­000­000­000­000­000­000­000­00005%, depending on the weather.

Linguistic Folk WisdomKnuttink Gnu & Underda Sun
The Journal of Lockdown Linguistics (International Edition)Announcement from Panini Press
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVII, No 3 Contents