The Grammarphobia Blog

Of mice and men

Q: My dictionary says the plural of a computer mouse can be either “mice” or “mouses,” but both of them sound funny to me. Which do you prefer?

A: A live “mouse” has baby “mice,” but a computer “mouse” multiplies as either “mice” or “mouses.” It’s your choice.

I agree with you, though, that either plural sounds silly. That may be why I’ve never used the plural, and why some wags prefer “meece,” “rats,” or “rodentia.”

I got an interesting email from a listener after the subject came up during one of my appearances on WNYC. Here’s an edited excerpt:

“In the technical circles I run around in, mice is used more frequently, but on rare occasions I hear people say mouses, usually with question marks in their voices.

“However, I can’t recall ever hearing anyone use either term with an entirely straight face. There seems to be something inherently absurd and humorous about trying to pluralize this word. The use of mice in this context is often followed by some sort of mouse joke or by the substitution of meece to emphasize how ridiculous the whole thing is.

“It’s not uncommon to hear tech folk refer to the general class of mouselike pointing devices (mice, track balls, touch pads, etc.) as rodentia. Of course there are diehards who feel that controlling computers with keyboards is vastly superior to any kind of pointing device and that the computer mouse is just a pest. These folks refer to that device as a rat.”

Eek!

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