Appendixes or appendices – and who cares anyway?

April 18th, 2009   13 Comments

A colleague of mine who I’d asked to review something I’d written for a bid proposal yesterday pointed out that I’d spelled appendices wrongly. I’d written appendixes.

Now ten/fifteen years ago I would never have done such a thing. When I was working as an editor I would have corrected other people’s appendixes to appendices. But yesterday I wrote appendixes with only the briefest of thoughts as to which version I should choose.

So, when I was taken to task over it, I wondered why I’d made the choice I made.

And I think the answer is that these days I’m trying to be less prissy about my use of English. So I don’t worry about the “thou shalt” linguistic edicts, like “thou shalt not use ‘which’ to introduce a restrictive relative clause” or “thou shalt not begin a sentence with a conjunction” (see my previous sentence for proof of my willingness to break that dumb rule).

My criteria for judging whether what I’ve written is acceptable or not are (in decreasing order of importance):

  1. Is it clear what I mean?
  2. Is it easy to read?
  3. Does it sound like a phrase a human being might actually utter?

Anyway, I thought I should do a little research to find out if I was way off the mark in using “appendixes”. And the results certainly suggest that most people think appendices is the correct form and a lot of people think it’s the only correct form. As is so common with questions of grammar, the use of appendixes even seems to get some people quite angry. I find this hard to fathom since – even if you think it’s wrong – it’s perfectly clear that when someone writes appendixes they mean the plural of appendix. So why get all hot under the collar about it?

A good discussion of the matter can be found … hang on a minute, use of the passive voice, that’s forbidden isn’t it? Let me start that again …

You can find a good discussion of the matter at the WordReference.com Language Forums:

http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=57302

Richard Bowen used Google to put together some statistics on how often the two words are used in the UK and the rest of the world. He found that, globally, there’s about a 3:1 ratio in favour of appendices; slightly less if you exclude UK Web pages, but for the UK pages alone the ratio is about 18:1.

http://www.richardbowen.com/appendix-plural-appendices-appendixes.html

So maybe I’ll go back to using appendices. However (yep, that’s another rule broken), I’m comforted to find out that all reputable dictionaries give appendixes as a valid spelling. And I liked the following contribution from mplsray on the WordReference forum:

I’d like to point out that The Century Dictionary of 1895 gives for the plural "appendixes or appendices," so appendixes has been a standard form for a very long time. And, although this might represent his opinion alone and not necessarily that of others of his time, Noah Webster in his 1828 dictionary did not consider appendices to be a naturalized English word, giving the only English plural as appendixes.

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  1. User Gravatar Gordon said:

    April 20th, 2009 at 8:25 am (#)

    Couldn't agree more.

    I've always been more interested in making sure the content I was writing was understandable and correct than whether it met each and every criteria and rule of the English language (some of which contradict each other!).

    This does seem to be a growing trend in technical writing, a move more towards the content than the writing skills, I wonder if it is because more of us are coming in from a "non-English literature" background than before? Not sure.

  2. User Gravatar Paul said:

    April 20th, 2009 at 1:36 pm (#)

    Interesting. I’ve always followed the rule (?) that “appendixes” applies only to the biological appendix. It would seem odd, for example, to read: “Phew, I’m tired,” sighed the surgeon. “I’ve removed seven appendices this morning.”

  3. User Gravatar Alistair said:

    April 20th, 2009 at 1:40 pm (#)

    I’ve never liked the idea of “rules” of spelling and grammar. Personally, I think of grammar as a description, written after the event, to help explain a language. Turning that information into “rules” depresses me, because it turns grammar from the descriptive to the prescriptive.

    For me, technical writing is mainly about getting the information across effectively. So, if most people find “appendixes” jarring and would expect to see “appendices”, then I’ll happily switch back to using “appendices”. That doesn’t mean one’s right and the other’s wrong. I just think that in technical writing (unlike in lots of other types of writing) the writing itself should be like good refereeing in a game of football, you shouldn’t notice it – it should just be there in the background helping thing flow well.

  4. User Gravatar Alistair said:

    April 20th, 2009 at 2:01 pm (#)

    Paul

    You’re not alone in thinking this. When I was doing a little research on appendixes vs appendices there did seem to be a belief among many people that one form was correct for those things that give us appendicitis and the other form was correct for those sections at the end of a book. However, there seems to be no valid reason for believing this. If you want to use “appendices” as the plural of an appendix, then you use the same word whether it’s bits of books or bits of bodies you’re talking about.

    There are plenty of medical texts that talk about “appendices” – e.g. (picked at random from a Google search): 
    http://www.jmcreditorial.com/content/3/1/57

    So I guess you just pays your money and takes your pick: appendixes or appendices.

  5. User Gravatar [Vocabulary] appendixes vs. appendices – UsingEnglish.com ESL Forum said:

    July 13th, 2010 at 1:22 pm (#)

    [...] appendices I really liked this author's point of view on this (and a number of other things): Appendixes or appendices – and who cares anyway? You can follow his (her?) link to another forum if you wish. I'll summarize: appendixes has been [...]

  6. User Gravatar fitra said:

    December 22nd, 2011 at 4:51 pm (#)

    phew… this morning I've corrected my student's spelling appendixes on her thesis. I insisted her to write appendices and she told me she had checked from dictionary. I'm feeling guilty then :(

  7. User Gravatar itauthor said:

    December 22nd, 2011 at 4:55 pm (#)

    Oops!

  8. User Gravatar jdg said:

    February 2nd, 2012 at 11:06 am (#)

    Sorry, my friend. I find appendixes too percussive. I think appendices has a much smoother aesthetic, spoken out-loud. If there is a rule against appendixes, perhaps it is not a rule for rule's sake but for the ear.

  9. User Gravatar NNB said:

    March 26th, 2012 at 2:04 am (#)

    American Imperialism and it's tendency toward the lowest common denominator might be a good reason to care! As jdg points out the English language has a beauty about it and this will be lost when we are careless with its value.

  10. User Gravatar Chris said:

    August 8th, 2012 at 7:43 am (#)

    Appendices/appendixes is relatively unimportant as there's no possibility of misunderstanding what was meant. Using "it's" instead of "its" is a whole different matter.

  11. User Gravatar John said:

    November 7th, 2012 at 11:35 am (#)

    Hi – sorry to be a pedant but I think you mean "each and every criterion".

  12. User Gravatar Rethink said:

    November 23rd, 2012 at 3:49 am (#)

    Hmmm….does it not seem odd that the discussion "not mattering" is OK for writing standards but when it comes to technical things it becomes a big NO NO…either you are consistent in insisting that the correct terms & practice is used or you let all things go lax….so then…what an interesting world it would make it where standards in programming, design, construction, development.

    Just because technical & IT bods don't feel comfortable in the general writing world that doesn't mean they should just ignore, dismiss or underplay the role, relevance, validity and appropriateness of doing the right thing.

  13. User Gravatar Rethink said:

    November 23rd, 2012 at 3:49 am (#)

    The issue raised a few times of context understandability is equally valid in the inverse by insisting on standards maintenance rather than watering it down. If the standards are maintained and affirmed then all learn that this is the appropriate, accepted & understood expectation & practice.

    In essence, the watering down is a disguised excuse fo not applying effective & appropriate writing & communication standards & practice & is essentially code for not wanting to bother or not really understanding / having the capability in the first place.

    There is no value in hiding behind false & self serving validations to mask a sense of inadequacy or lack of writing / communication skill.