English is full of words that get their meanings and grammatical concepts from other languages. Most of the English language, in fact, was borrowed (or stolen) from languages such as Latin, Greek, or other European languages. As a result, it can be very difficult for people to learn the vastly complex network of English grammar rules because, more often than not, the rules actually get broken.
One such word that does not seem to follow conventional “rules” or grammatical concepts and guidelines is the word “phoenix.” Not only does it describe an ancient Greek mythological bird, but its pluralization can also be complicated as well, leaving people wondering where it fits into the grand scheme of grammatical etiquette. In this article, let’s explore the proper use of our word of the day, phoenix, how to pluralize it, look for its synonyms, and learn its context.
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The first step in really understanding a word or learning how to use it properly is to understand its definition. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a phoenix is defined as “a legendary bird which according to one account lived 500 years, burned itself to ashes on a pyre, and rose alive from the ashes to live another period.” Another note added states that the word phoenix could actually be used to describe a person or thing likened to the phoenix. The word is mostly used in works with archaic, poetic, and literary inspiration, and is usually not used in serious conversation because it gets its roots from mythology. The word itself likely has the same root as Phoenician, and it cannot be used in the genitive case.
The plural of phoenix is complicated and does not have a real answer. Because the word itself does not actually describe a real creature, the grammatical story behind it reveals a complicated debate between avid fantasy readers and mythology scholars. However, due to the fact that the word’s complex background is in Latin, the word’s derived plural would probably be “phoenices,” pronounced “feenuses,” which is not entirely flattering (it sounds a little too much like penises for comfort).
What Is a Group of Phoenixes Called?
Therefore, there is avid debate around the process by which the phoenix is pluralized, and it boils down to the fact that culture drives language, not the other way around. People begin to use a word, and eventually, its usage, context, and definition are considered to be common enough to actually be “correct.” The dictionary has never been and never will be the definitive authority on language, and so it does not always provide what society would consider the “correct” answer.
Because there is only one mythological Phoenix, there is really not a plural of the word that is considered to be grammatically correct, but at the end of the day, if necessary, either Phoenixes or Phoenices would probably be considered correct.
Just like the word matrix (also derived from the Latin phoenix and Greek phoinix) has the plural form matrices, it would follow that, at least in the spirit of staying true to the original root word, phoenices would be the most accurate form, but it is entirely subjective.
Can There Be More Than One Phoenix?
Speaking from the standpoint of historical Greek mythology, no, there is only one Phoenix. He was the mythical bird of great beauty worshiped for his ability to burn himself on a pyre of spices after 500 years and revive itself to its earlier youth from the ashes. The figure of the phoenix is a popular metaphor used to describe people, entities, or a school’s mascot that have found ways to return to former glory internally and of their own merit.
The History and Origin of the Word
The best way to really learn a word and to answer the questions of what and why are to explore that word’s etymology. The roots and origin story of any given word can open so many doors to understanding its current context in English. Because English borrows so many different words and concepts from other languages, it is important to look back. According to EtymOnline.com, the word entered modern English by way of Old English. The word “fenix” was Old English, although the Old French fenix is the same, used to describe the mythological creature, and that word originated from the Medieval Latin phenix, which in turn came from the Latin “phoenix” and the Greek “phoinix.”
In all contexts, the word describes the same creature, but it can also describe the constellation found in the Southern Hemisphere. It was first used in modern English in the early seventeenth century by Flemish cartographer Petrus Plancius and was also used in 1867, to name the capital city of Arizona.
Examples of the Word in Context
Another great way to learn how to use a word is to explore its proper usage. Hearing someone else use a word or reading it on a page in its proper context are great ways to establish the proper way to use it in your own vocabulary. Here are some examples of the word phoenix in common conversation:
“Did you read the history assignment for this week? We were supposed to go over the mythology behind the story of the Phoenix and then write a paper summarizing its traits.”
“I am writing this fantasy novel about an army of phoenixes; what should I call them?”
“The Phoenix Suns are the professional basketball team based in the capital city of Arizona in the United States.”
“I moved to a new high school in Utah, and our mascot is the phoenix.”
Synonyms for Phoenix
Learning words with similar meanings can be a good way to really solidify a word into your memory. Unfortunately, because the word phoenix describes such a specific concept and a specific creature from Greek mythology, it is really difficult to come up with any words that even have remotely similar meanings.
Hopefully, by reading this article, you feel more comfortable with the word Phoenix and all its forms. Now you can use it in your own life, either in writing or in normal conversation. Good luck!
Kevin Miller is a growth marketer with an extensive background in Search Engine Optimization, paid acquisition and email marketing. He is also an online editor and writer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He studied at Georgetown University, worked at Google and became infatuated with English Grammar and for years has been diving into the language, demystifying the do's and don'ts for all who share the same passion! He can be found online here.