Thursday, 10 March 2011

Kyla the Grammar Cop: Vertebrae vs Vertebra

I am not much of a sports fan, but you'd have to live under a rock not to know that Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty was seriously injured in a home game against Boston this week. Pacorietty spent several minutes unconscious on the ice Tuesday night, and remains in hospital today with a concussion and a spinal fracture.

I'm not going to comment on how the incident that caused the injury  is being handled by the police or the NHL. I was actually spurred to write this post because of how many times I've cringed when I heard someone official use the wrong word when describing Pacorietty's spinal injury. Every single report I heard on TV featured at least one person saying the hockey player had suffered "a fractured vertebrae."

OK, time for me to put on my grammar cop helmet! Please people, could we say "a fractured vertebra"? Please???

"Vertebrae" is the plural of "vertebra" — just like "antennae" is the plural of "antenna." It's an unusual construct in English, I know. But in Latin, some plurals end in -ae, and some of those words have been borrowed into our language. It's one of those things we have to learn to do correctly, if we want to improve our use of English.

The good news is that all the text I found relating to the hockey injury correctly used the singular form "a fractured vertebra." And I'm willing to bet that all those news anchors and sportscasters saw "vertebra" on their prompters too. With so many folks getting the word wrong, perhaps some got confused and others just decided it was safer to go along with the crowd.

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Marie Anne said...

I'm never going to use those words again, lest you stomp on my vertebra or vertebrae for getting it wrong!

Kyla Matton Osborne said...

I don't know how I managed to miss this comment, Marie Anne, but I am only seeing it now. As for stomping on your vertebrae, only a fool would even think to attempt that!