PDA

View Full Version : But "Cacti" Sounds So Wrong



melaniehoo
10-22-2008, 12:50 AM
My MC is running through the desert and sees a lot of cactuses. Cacti. Those green spiny things. I know it's grammatically correct to say cacti, but it doesn't sound authentic to my story. My MC is a young Mexican man with a little education. He speaks correctly for the most part but would NOT say cacti.

Dictionary.com says this:


cac·tus (kāk'təs) Pronunciation Key
n. pl. cac·ti (-tī') or cac·tus·es

Any of various succulent, spiny, usually leafless plants native mostly to arid regions of the New World, having variously colored, often showy flowers with numerous stamens and petals.

Any of several similar plants.

It seems like I should be in the clear, but I'd really appreciate a second or tenth opinion. Thanks.

Kitty Pryde
10-22-2008, 12:58 AM
Cactuses seems more than reasonable to me. Alternatively, he could call them "saguaros" (or whatever cactus variety they were). Or, you might say, for instance, 'i ran past cactus after cactus' and just avoid the plural altogether. Or, it seems reasonable that an ESL speaker would use 'cactus' as the plural because it ends in 's' and is thus a Confusing Word in English. I'm certain I've heard ESL speakers use this construction for singular words ending in 's'. As in, "I must have seen a hundred cactus!"

melaniehoo
10-22-2008, 01:02 AM
Those are good points. While I'm writing this in English, it's implied that he's speaking Spanish in the book, so the ESL part wouldn't really come into play (although I have a lot of friend who get confused with that rule).

auntybug
10-22-2008, 01:04 AM
"I must have seen a hundred cactus!"

That does sound better than cacti. Sometimes what is proper is just not what "real" people say. I think the readers would appreciate your MC talking like himself more so than what is technically proper - but that just my humble $.02.

FWIW: My MC refuses to "whom" and has a habit for sayin' ain't ;)


eta: just got your rep - sorry - I'm no help then. What color is surprised again? :roll:

Soccer Mom
10-22-2008, 01:08 AM
Is it first person? If so, definitely go with the less formal.

MaryMumsy
10-22-2008, 01:08 AM
I'm in AZ, we have multitudes of those spiny things. Most people around here use cactus for single or plural. 'Oh, look at that cactus.' 'Oh, look at all those cactus.' The only people I have heard use cacti are either horticulturists or pedants. But cactuses sounds wrong to my ear.

MM

melaniehoo
10-22-2008, 01:10 AM
I clarified for AB in a rep, so I'll share here. He does say "ain't", etc throughout the book, but the cactuses's'es's bit is in the narrative. Here's an example from my wip:


The officers circled away from the vehicle. Beams of light flashed over rocks and cacti as they searched for Alejandro.


eta: MM, that's the way I've been leaning & why I'm asking.

benbradley
10-22-2008, 01:12 AM
For anyone who had first-year Latin and remembers the first thing about it, cacti sounds "more correct." ;)

You just gotta have him saying "cactuses" at some point later in the story to someone a pedant who corrects him, just so you as the author won't look ignorant. :D

CACTUSWENDY
10-22-2008, 01:14 AM
There's more then one of me? Cool!

Like MM said....just use Cactus. That's how I say it and I know what the mulit. is.

<<<<wonders away....more of me.....they are not ready for that.

melaniehoo
10-22-2008, 01:20 AM
Ben, lol. That would certainly mix things up when he's running for his life. ;)

Wendy, I've never heard of using 'cactus' for both singular and plural, but you all might convince me.

JeanneTGC
10-22-2008, 01:22 AM
I use 'cacti' all the time and so do a lot of people I know (Mary and Wendy notwithstanding ;)). If it's a character thing, do what you want. However, just because he's a Mexican immigrant does that necessarily mean he's also illiterate in his own language? Maybe you should look up what the Spanish/Mexican word for cactus is and what its plural is and use that.

melaniehoo
10-22-2008, 01:26 AM
I use 'cacti' all the time and so do a lot of people I know (Mary and Wendy notwithstanding ;)). If it's a character thing, do what you want. However, just because he's a Mexican immigrant does that necessarily mean he's also illiterate in his own language? Maybe you should look up what the Spanish/Mexican word for cactus is and what its plural is and use that.


Ooh, good idea. *flips open dictionary*

Agh! It's like I'm in a time warp. The English side defines cactus as cactus, with -tuses for the plural. The Spanish side says cactus as cactus. Good grief.

eta: I know that cholla cacti are common in the area where the novel takes place, but that seems awkward too. (Oh, and I typically say cacti.)

IceCreamEmpress
10-22-2008, 01:29 AM
I bet you can finesse it entirely. "I ran through a cactus field, stumbling against saguaros and tripping over chollas as I fled."

citymouse
10-22-2008, 01:39 AM
What's in a word? When advised he couldn't make The Children's Hour because it was about lesbians. He said then he'd make them Mexicans.
Use what fits.
C

jst5150
10-22-2008, 01:47 AM
Cacti sounds like it belongs in science. MM's version seems more like what soldiers would say.

JimmyB27
10-22-2008, 01:58 AM
I'm in AZ, we have multitudes of those spiny things. Most people around here use cactus for single or plural.
I like this - call them 'those spiny things'. ;)

melaniehoo
10-22-2008, 01:59 AM
Thanks everyone. :)


eta: especially you Jimmy, lol.

CACTUSWENDY
10-22-2008, 02:44 AM
Humph.................I ain't no spiny thingy.

<<wonders off..............

JimmyB27
10-22-2008, 04:18 AM
Humph.................I ain't no spiny thingy.

<<wonders off..............
No, I'd say you're more prickly.

And definitely spineless.


(j/k) :D

melaniehoo
10-22-2008, 06:19 PM
AB checked with an English teacher friend and she says cactus or cactuses is acceptable. Because of the way my warped brain works, I'm going to use cactuses for now. I worry that using cactus for both singular and plural will cause confusion in the reader, that they won't immediately know if there is only one, or many. Thanks for your help everyone!

NeuroFizz
10-22-2008, 07:50 PM
First of all, if you are talking about the Sonoran Desert, the landscape is anything but pure cacti. In fact, the saguaros are few and far between, and some of the other cacti are not always the prominent feature, and not always noticeable until you come right on them. There are a number of shrub-like bushes (like hackberry) and even small, scraggly trees (palo verde, mesquite), and in some places there is nothing but creosote bushes. But even most of the shrubs and small trees have thorns. If it is in the Mexican character's POV, he could refer to the forest of thorns ahead of him. And, please don't make that desert sandy. It's rocky and dirty. In fact, there is a layer of small particle dust that makes late Summer dust storms a pain for even a well-sealed house (the fine grains seem to get through tightly-closed windows).

http://i246.photobucket.com/albums/gg81/NeuroFizz/SonoranDesert.jpg

melaniehoo
10-22-2008, 07:55 PM
First of all, if you are talking about the Sonoran Desert, the landscape is anything but pure cacti. In fact, the saguaros are few and far between, and some of the other cacti are not always the prominent feature, and not always noticeable until you come right on them. There are a number of shrub-like bushes (like hackberry) and even small, scraggly trees (palo verde, mesquite), and in some places there is nothing but creosote bushes. But even most of the shrubs and small trees have thorns. If it is in the Mexican character's POV, he could refer to the forest of thorns ahead of him. And, please don't make that desert sandy. It's rocky and dirty. In fact, there is a layer of small particle dust that makes late Summer dust storms a pain for even a well-sealed house (the fine grains seem to get through tightly-closed windows).

http://i246.photobucket.com/albums/gg81/NeuroFizz/SonoranDesert.jpg

Thanks for the details. I've been near there so my wip reflects everything you've said. (The main desert scene is near Tecate.) Some of the posters here have talked about lots of cactuses, but I make sure it's clear they are few and far between. It's mostly rocks, shrubs, and thorny things that they trip over while running through the dirt. ;)

hammerklavier
10-22-2008, 10:07 PM
Cacti is what I use and learned in school and hear from my peers (when it comes up) but it looks like the education of the younger generation has been neglected on this point. Oh well, so goes the language.

melaniehoo
10-23-2008, 12:09 AM
Cacti is what I use and learned in school and hear from my peers (when it comes up) but it looks like the education of the younger generation has been neglected on this point. Oh well, so goes the language.

If you notice, my original post says that I know cacti is grammatically correct. My question was regarding how much I can push the rules as a writer. I KNOW it should be cacti but every time I read it in my wip it sounds like a dictionary just thumped my MC on the head. ;)

Sean D. Schaffer
10-23-2008, 04:43 AM
My MC is running through the desert and sees a lot of cactuses. Cacti. Those green spiny things. I know it's grammatically correct to say cacti, but it doesn't sound authentic to my story. My MC is a young Mexican man with a little education. He speaks correctly for the most part but would NOT say cacti.

...Snipped...

It seems like I should be in the clear, but I'd really appreciate a second or tenth opinion. Thanks.

Truth be known, if it's your character calling them 'cactuses,' then there shouldn't be a problem.

However, just so you know, 'Cacti' is not the only grammatically correct way to pluralize 'Cactus.' Another grammatically correct version, believe it or not, is the word 'Cactus.' When I was in Junior High School in Phoenix, AZ, I learned that both words are correct. 'Cacti' was the older of the two, and in my school days, 'Cactus' was the new thing.

Even so, your character's words should be his own words, not necessarily those of a Junior High School curriculum. If it works, it works. :)