Among the recent entries in Macmillan’s crowdsourced Open Dictionary is the word persona as used in marketing contexts to mean “a fictitious character based on known features of the target audience for a product”. That is, during product development a company might “[create] several personas” with which to check that an item is suitable and fit for purpose.
Business has of course adapted persona from more general use, where it means “the part of your personality that you deliberately show most people” – a sort of social facade, though without necessarily any negative connotations. But what interests me here is the plural form used in the definition’s example sentence: personas.
English constantly imports words from other languages, and over time these loan words can become thoroughly anglicised and may therefore be pluralised in the usual English ways: typically by adding –s or –es. Persona retains its Latin flavour and so the Latin plural personae survives, though some restrict it to literary and technical contexts. The anglicised plural personas is also frequently seen; indeed, both forms are on the rise.
The two spellings’ coexistence – some call it competition – is not unusual: witness appendixes and appendices, formulas and formulae, millenniums and millennia, referendums and referenda, stadiums and stadia, and thesauruses and thesauri, all used regularly. Neither one in any pair has ousted the other, though some eventually will. Millennia overtook its rival in the 1930s and is likely to maintain its supremacy.
There are no hard and fast rules about which plural to use and when. In certain cases the Latin is more formal or even affected, but not predictably so. Occasionally the two spellings differentiate in meaning. For example, stigmata normally implies a religious context, while stigmas is the general-purpose plural. Some authorities advise limiting mediums to spiritualists and using media for all other senses of the word, but usage varies.
Certain Latin plurals, such as minutiae (“small or unimportant details”) never became very common in the singular, so *minutias didn’t get a chance to develop as a legitimate variant. Other Latin plurals transform into English singulars, such as agenda, stamina, and data (which is both singular and plural). When did you last hear of someone setting an agendum?
Similarly, the Italian plurals graffiti and paparazzi are widely treated as singular in English, while singular phenomena and fora are edging along this path but are still non-standard, at least in formal writing. Whether “a phenomena” becomes as generally acceptable as “an agenda” depends on the people using the language – the unofficial fora who collectively engineer common usage.Email this Post