Question: We have a different kind of question for CyberWalker. What is the plural of computer mouse — “mouses” or “mice”? H.K.
Answer: I’ve been on the trail for an answer to this question for a week and in the process I was snubbed by the very inventor of the computer mouse.
I started my search for the truth about mouse plurality with Douglas Engelbart, who invented the device at the Stanford Research Center in California in 1963.
You may recall that he was recently named the winner of the 1997 Lemelson-M.I.T. Prize for his inventions, which besides the computer mouse, include windowing and videoconferencing.
Well, he didn’t answer my e-mail and I’m a little indignant about it. I browsed his Web page at www.bootsrap.org anyway and discovered that in his 1970 patent application for the device, he called it “an X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System”.
By extrapolation, Engelbart’s plural of mouse is XY-PIDSes. Not catchy. Good thing he didn’t go into product-naming as a career. Then again, I shouldn’t complain…if he had, we might be eating the Aggrandized Multi-Layered Hamburger Sandwich at McDonald’s.
The next stop on the rodential syntax search was M.I.T. After all, they’re a bunch of bright folks and they did give Doug a half-million dollars for his badly named but nifty invention.
On their Web page was a media release about the prize. In it, they refer to the plural of the device as “mice”, quotes included. That suggests to me that they don’t quite take the word very seriously.
At a bit of a loss, I headed for Logitech’s home page at www.logitech.com. They’re the world’s largest makers of the mouse.
I sent them an e-mail, too, asking for a definitive answer. None arrived.
In their marketing material they refer to the word “mice” but who can take marketers seriously? I mean, on the same pages they refer to scanners and video cameras as “imaging solutions”. That’s like calling your feet “transportation enablers” or your mouth a “communication output orifice”.
Completely frustrated and at my wit’s end, I punched a few search terms into the Altavista search engine and came up with what may be as close to an answer I as can find.
I found the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing and one of its co-authors Paul Mayer, a chemistry grad student and research associate at Princeton University. FOLDOC is a searchable dictionary of computer terms that spans jargon (try “mouse arrest”), technical terms, and anything to do with computing.
If you type in mouses, it reveals the definition for “mouse”. If you try “mice” it also points to the mouse definition.
“This is an interesting and, I’m sure, very debatable question,” Mayer told me in a lengthy and much appreciated e-mail reply.
“I will share some insight, but correctness is not implied or guaranteed.”
His frankness and willingness to indulge me was refreshing. He even checked a real dictionary, something I’d neglected to do.
“Webster’s 7th Collegiate Dictionary would appear to give ‘mice’ as the plural for ‘mouse’ in all instances,” he explained.
“However, the plural of this device should be determined by common usage. If this is the case, then it would appear that both ‘mice’ and ‘mouses’ are acceptable.”
In researching his answer for me, he did a search on Altavista for both terms.
“Both turned up an abundance of hits,” he said.
“But one could even argue that ‘mouses’ is preferred because it avoids confusing a few peripheral input devices with a few small rodents.”
So there you have it. Both are appropriate. I endorse Mayer’s final analysis, though. “There is one way to avoid confusion,” he concluded. “I do not have two mice and I do not have two mouses … I have one mouse and come to think of it, I have another mouse.”