September 2008 Archives

Cherubim, Seraphim, and otherim


Something I've been seeing unusually often lately: use of "-im" words as singular.

The "-im" suffix, in words derived from Hebrew, is generally a masculine plural, as far as I can tell (I'm sure Shmuel or others will correct me if that's wrong). So words like "cherubim," "seraphim," "Nephilim," "dybbukim," "Hasidim," "kibbutzim," "klezmorim," and "goyim" are plural.

In English, other plural forms are often acceptable. For example, it's fine in English to say "cherubs," "seraphs," "dybbuks," and even "goys." (We usually talk about the Nephilim in plural; I don't think I've seen "Nephil" singular.)

But in all those cases, it's not correct to use the "-im" forms as singular. * "A Nephilim walks into a bar" is grammatically wrong; likewise * "Wow, that cherubim is totally hot."

I imagine that part of the confusion comes from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, in which there's a character who's referred to as a cherubim. But even there, L'Engle was aware that that's nonstandard:

Calvin made a sound which, if he had been less astonished, would have been a laugh. "But cherubim is plural."

The fire-spouting beast returned, "I am practically plural. The little boy thought I was a drive of dragons, didn't he? [...]"

A Wind in the Door, p. 56 of (I guess) the 1974 Dell edition

Of course, this is only an issue for -im words that come from Hebrew. For example, "victim," "verbatim," "grim," "disclaim," "denim," and "Sondheim" are not plurals.


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The abbreviation "CXO" or "CxO" refers to the set of executives whose titles start with "Chief" and end with "Officer"--CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.

For details and a cite, see Word Spy.

23rd hour

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I've of course heard of things happening "at the 11th hour"--very late in a process. But apparently things can happen even later than that:

Alicia Summers of El Mirage, Arizona[, said:] "Did Palin really think she could come into a race at the 23rd hour and not be subjected to questions?"

--Palin daughter's pregnancy stirs strong emotions from iReporters, article at, retrieved 2 September 2008, 10:29 a.m.

TSOR suggests that the phrase has been used by others, apparently fairly prominently, in recent years, but it appears to be pretty rare, especially compared to the traditional "11th hour" version. At any rate, this was the first I had seen the "23rd hour" phrasing.

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