No, It’s Not Octopi

I’m sure many of you were like me. We’ve been running around all our lives referring to more than one octopus as octopi. While it sounds very official, Latin-esque, and scientifically correct, it’s not. The correct term is octopodes. Who knew? I was a biology major in college, and I don’t ever remember coming across this term. I’m totally embarrassed.

The apparent reason for the discrepancy is that octopus is not a Latin term, as many of our animal names are. It’s Greek and therefore has a different plural ending. However, “octopi” is a term that has been mistakenly used for so long, it’s actually listed in many dictionaries. Interestingly enough, my Word spellchecker didn’t recognize octopodes either. You can’t see it, but there’s still a red line underneath that spelling. Maybe I should write them a note of correction.

Cannibals

Still, one wouldn’t have much of an occasion to use either of the plural terms. The truth of the matter is that octopodes are loners. So it seems that we introverts have company (if, indeed, we wanted company). Octopodes don’t even like to hang out with each other (unless it’s mating season). If placed in a container with others of their species, they eat one another. While it’s one thing to be anti-social, it’s quite another to become cannibalistic about it.

Scientists tell us that these creatures are quite intelligent for the type of animal they are (which would explain why they mistrust each other). They are close relatives of animals such as snails and slugs—fauna not known for their highly developed cognitive abilities. The octopodes have come a long way, but they’re still not ready for socialization.

Their loner status reminds me of the price some people pay for fame and fortune. Many movie stars, for example, have a hard time going anywhere without being noticed and swamped by fans and well-wishers. Occasionally, people find themselves on the other end of that spectrum. If they are less than well-liked, they are harassed and attacked when people spot them in public.

Lonely Places

Even Jesus went through that kind of treatment (both for being popular and infamous). There’s an illustrious story that tells about a time when Jesus healed a man of leprosy. He then told the man not to say anything about how he was rehabilitated. Of course, the man couldn’t contain himself, and the news spread like apple butter. The final verse of that account relates it this way: “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places” (Mark 1:45). There’s a cost to being sought after.

While miracles drew admiration from the folks, some of his ideas had the opposite effect. Once while teaching in a synagogue (Luke 4:14-40), he infuriated his audience with his teachings. Scripture tells us they took him to the edge of town to throw him off a cliff (sounds a bit like today’s political climate). That would have been a good time to be an octopus.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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