Word Choice: Indexes or Indices, Forums or Fora?

By , March 16, 2012

I’ve recently encountered the problem of “which version of a word to use,” in my writing in this blog and elsewhere. This issue arises often with the plural forms of two words: “index” and “forum.”

In each case, every modern dictionary will tell you that there are now two equally-acceptable plural forms for the words, though this wasn’t always true. ┬áThe plural of “index” can be either “indices” (historical) or “indexes” (modern). The plural of “forum” can be either “fora” (historical) or “forums” (modern).

My discomfort over these choices comes from my training as a journalist and my experience as an English teacher, but frankly, the real question is, “how will certain people perceive me, if I use one version or the other?”

If I use the “traditional” spelling, some folks might think I’m archaic or elitist. If I use the modern spelling, some folks might think I’m uneducated or sloppy.

Of course, most people (99%) won’t care, and of those who might be confused or disturbed by one version or the other, the modern version is likely to be more easily understood. And thus, I’ve generally chosen to use “forums” and “indexes,” because even though these spellings make me a tiny bit uncomfortable, they’ll probably be more comfortable for my readers.

For some perspective:

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