Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt corrected Alliance leader David Ford in the Assembly this week – when the latter used the word “referendums“, the former couldn’t get in quickly enough to interject with “referenda!”
Well indeed, every Oxbridge-educated scholar would know that the plural of neuter second declension nouns in Latin is -a.
Except, ahem, referendum is not a second-declension noun. It is a gerund, and thus has no plural as such.
It is true that gerunds have plural forms. However, because it is a gerund, referendum in Latin means “referring thing” or perhaps more idiomatically “referred matter”; thus the plural form referenda would mean “referred matters”.
However, only one matter was referred to the people of Scotland last week – thus it was a referendum. The clear context of Mr Ford’s remarks was to refer to similar instances of a single matter being referred – in which case the productive plural formation is quite correctly referendums.
If you’re going to be a pedant, it pays to know your stuff. Quod erat demonstrandum.