By on February 5, 2011

More than three years ago, on New Year’s Eve of 2007, our Beloved Leader, the dearly departed Robert Farago rattled the Best and Brightest with one of his thought (and sometimes aggression) provoking questions. This time, it was: “What’s the plural of Prius?”

Damned if I know, but a few days ago, the TTAC server reported repeated search terms for the very same  “What’s the plural of Prius?” I decided to do my journalistic duty and investigate. The results were shocking.

It turns out that Toyota celebrates its release of a whole family of, well, Priuses or whatever, with an on-line campaign that raises the same question RF raised three years ago:

The banner leads you to a Toyota website. I can’t figure out whether you can win anything. I can’t even divine how to register my vote for Prii, Priora, Priores, or Priapuses. But maybe that’s just me.

However, I found out how Toyota got into this quandary. My adviser on Japanese cultural matters, Tomoko Schmitto-san, tells me that there is no plural for things in the Japanese language, and a car is a thing or a neuter in Nihongo.  It’s “ichi-dai no kuruma” and “ni-dai no kuruma”, or “one car” and “two car”. In Japanese, the question never comes up. It would be, converted to Romaji, “ichi-dai no Purius” and “ni-dai no Purius” (with the “r” pronounced somewhere between the “l” and the “r”.)

For those who are still scratching their heads about what the plural of Prius may be, here a re-release of Robert Farago’s epic piece from December 13, 2007:

I know TTAC is the hard man of the autoblogosphere, but sometimes I can’t resist taking a walk on nerdy side (and the pistonhead girls go do do do do…). The International Herald Tribune addresses one of rivet counters’ most vexing questions, as above. Previously, on “You Need To Get A Life,” Trib author Jan Freeman declared that the appropriate term for more than one Toyota Prius was “Prioria.” Reader Christopher Casey took exception, kinda. “You were right that Prius is the neuter nominative/accusative singular of the adjective prior, but the plural forms of the word – which means ‘earlier, better, more important’- would be Priora, not Prioria.” Freeman rang-up Harry Mount, author of “Carpe Diem” (a.k.a. “Latin isn’t half as dull as you think it is. More like a quarter”). “Yes, it’s Priora,” he told Freeman, “because it’s neuter plural. But if you cheated a bit and made the car masculine or feminine – and I do think of cars as female – then it would be Priores. And Priores has nice undertones of grandness – Virgil used it to mean ‘forefathers’ or ‘ancestors.’ So if your hybrids are named for the dames of ancient Rome – Drusilla, Octavia, Agrippina – you’re granted poetic license. Otherwise, Priora is the Latin plural you’re looking for.” Mea culpa! TTAC’s been using Prii. We sit corrected.

Sure. But if he would have trademarked “What’s the Plural of Prius?”, we’d be rich by now.

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