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View Full Version : Why do we say "oxen," but not "foxen?"


Argent Towers
07-29-2005, 06:36 PM
The plural of "ox" is "oxen." Try saying "oxes" out loud, and it sounds weird because we're not used to it. But we say "boxes" and "foxes" (are there any other words that end with "ox"?)

Why exactly did the plural of "ox" come to be "oxen?" And why the plural of "fox" is not "foxen?"

Phlosphr
07-29-2005, 06:52 PM
Because the english language is weird.

Oh and what would the plural of Angelina Jolie's son named Maddox?

jayjay
07-29-2005, 07:19 PM
Around the time of Chaucer, before the dialect of London was established as "standard" English, there were several forms vying for dominance. I believe in the Northern form -en was the standard plural. The Southern form (the dialect of Chaucer and London) formed the plural in -es. Eventually the -en form lost the battle and today it only survives in a very few words (oxen, brethren and children being the most common, though children had to fight it out with yet another dialect's plural, childer). Now whether foxes used to be foxen back in the day and got assimilated or whether it came direct from the -es group, I don't know.

Finagle
07-29-2005, 07:48 PM
Well, we do have vixen. And, for those users of DEC machines, I've seen the plural Vaxen.

John Mace
07-29-2005, 07:58 PM
Well, we do have vixen. And, for those users of DEC machines, I've seen the plural Vaxen.

Interestingly enough, though, only the plural form survives. Not the origin of vixen (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=vixen).

Word History: Why does the word fox begin with f but its female counterpart, vixen, begin with v? The answer lies in English dialects. In the speech of Devon, Somerset, and Cornwall, counties of southern England, words that begin with the voiceless fricative sounds (f) and (s) are pronounced instead with voicing, as (v) and (z). (The local rendering of the county name Somerset, in fact, is “Zomerzet.”) The voicing is due to a Middle English sound change and may have roots even earlier. At least three examples of this dialectal pronunciation have entered standard English: vat, vane, and vixen. The first of these is a variant of an earlier word fat; the pronunciation with (f) was still used in the 19th century before being displaced by the southern pronunciation (vt). Vane, which used to mean “flag,” has a cognate in the German word for “flag,” Fahne, showing the original f. Vixen, finally, represents the southern pronunciation of a word that goes back to Old English fyxe, the feminine of fox. It was formed by a change in the root vowel of fox and the addition of a suffix -e or -en. Besides being one of the rare southern English dialect forms to have come into standard English, vixen is also the only survival of this type of feminine noun in the modern language.

dqa
07-29-2005, 08:14 PM
See also this thread:

Female equivalent of brethren (http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/showthread.php?t=75614)

jayjay
07-29-2005, 08:34 PM
And from John Mace's cite, I see I mixed up which dialect was which... :smack:

Mr2001
07-29-2005, 08:55 PM
The plural of "ox" is "oxen." Try saying "oxes" out loud, and it sounds weird because we're not used to it. But we say "boxes" and "foxes" (are there any other words that end with "ox"?)
A lot of pretentious Slashdot geeks like to say "boxen" when they're referring to computers.

John Mace
07-29-2005, 09:43 PM
As a side note, I just finished reading The Unfolding of Language (http://amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0805079076/qid=1122691431/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_sbs_1/104-8945000-3999126?v=glance&s=books&n=507846) (which I highly recommend, btw), and the author points out that plurals like man -> men and goose -> geese may look like a simple vowel change plural forming process, but it's more complicated than that. He postulates that man (originally mann) went thru a stage where the plural was mann-iz (the -iz sound being common in I-E plurals) but that the "i" began to color the "a" (think of German umlaut where an "e" colors a vowel), turning it to "e", and that the "z" was dropped off at some point. So, the plural of "man" started out as a simple plural process of adding "-iz", but turned into a vowel change instead. Apparently the same thing happened in German, but to a much larger extent, leaving more of those plural forms than one finds in English.

ShibbOleth
07-30-2005, 08:36 AM
Both words come from German. In German:

Ox = Ochse
Oxen = Ochsen
Fox = Fuchs
Foxes = Füchse

So I'd attribute it to the inherited vagaries of the German language.

Gymnopithys
07-31-2005, 09:14 AM
Well, we do have vixen. And, for those users of DEC machines, I've seen the plural Vaxen.

Vixen appears to come from German füchsin "female fox".

Ruken
07-31-2005, 09:48 AM
Both words come from German. As does most of the English language (from Germanic languages, rather.) Is this -en common for all pluralisations in Germanic languages, or is it just an odd example?

ShibbOleth
07-31-2005, 09:53 AM
As does most of the English language (from Germanic languages, rather.) Is this -en common for all pluralisations in Germanic languages, or is it just an odd example?

En is a very common plural, but not the only one. Just -e is also a common pluralisation. I think it depends on the gender of the word and the word structure.

Gymnopithys
08-01-2005, 02:40 AM
As does most of the English language (from Germanic languages, rather.) Is this -en common for all pluralisations in Germanic languages, or is it just an odd example?

In vixen the ending -en is not a plural form. It's the nearest pronounciation of German füchsin in which -in indicates a feminin form: Fuchs (male), Füchsin (female).

Derleth
08-01-2005, 03:54 AM
A lot of pretentious Slashdot geeks like to say "boxen" when they're referring to computers.Pretentious? It is to laugh!

;)

Seriously, the usage isn't pretentious. Neither is Slashdot.

Mr2001
08-01-2005, 04:12 AM
Seriously, the usage isn't pretentious. Neither is Slashdot.
The site itself isn't, but there are certainly pretentious people on Slashdot. You know, the ones whose response to every Windows bug or DRM scare is "So what? It doesn't affect me. I use Linux, listen to nothing but indie-label music, and watch nothing but Red vs. Blue. Maybe this will finally get everyone to switch to the things I like." IME, those are the types who are most likely to say "boxen".

Futile Gesture
08-01-2005, 07:01 AM
Maybe this will finally get everyone to switch to the things I like." IME, those are the types who are most likely to say "boxen".And of course the worse thing that could possibly happen to them would be to wake up one morning to find that everyone has switched to things they like. Then they wouldn't be special anymore and would have to find new obsessions.

I'd never heard 'boxen'. But now I plan to use it all the time, to as many people as possible, in the hope that Bill Gates may catch on to it one day. Then no-one will ever want to use it again.

robertliguori
08-01-2005, 07:12 AM
Since this is GQ:
http://jargon.net/jargonfile/b/boxen.html

Hackers that get their hacker cred from memorizing the jargon file (which, unlike some subcultures, is actually not an inherently pretentious way to acquire it), also use the term.

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