The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

1 January 2008

A question of Priority

Prius, the name given to Toyota's first hybrid vehicle, is supposed to be derived from Latin. Jan Freeman of The Boston Globe quoted a Toyota spokesperson as follows:

"Prius is a Latin word meaning 'to go before'," he explained. "Toyota chose this name because the Prius vehicle is the predecessor of cars to come."

Well, no:

But prius can't be a Latin infinitive; "to go before" would have to be a verb, like, say, precedere. Actually, prius is just the neuter form of prior, the comparative adjective, meaning "earlier, anterior, superior." As a noun, it would mean "earlier one" or "superior one."

And if there's one thing Toyota does well, it's neuter.

Now what's the plural form? Priuses just doesn't have that classical zing. At long last, the question is answered, once and for all:

I put the question to Harry Mount, author of the new book Carpe Diem, a paean to the joys of Latin.

"Yes, it's Priora," he told me, "because it's neuter plural. But if you cheated a bit and made the car masculine or feminine — and I do think of cars as female — then it would be Priores. And Priores has nice undertones of grandness — Virgil used it to mean 'forefathers' or 'ancestors'."

So if your hybrids are named for the dames of ancient Rome — Drusilla, Octavia, Agrippina — you're granted poetic license. Otherwise, Priora is the Latin plural you're looking for.

I expect Dr. Weevil may have something to say about that, in which case I'll ask him about Lexuses. ("Lexi"?)

(Inspired, if that's the word, by The Truth About Cars.)

Posted at 10:34 AM to Driver's Seat


I keep pushing for the plural of "bus" to be "bi," but nobody ever seems to notice.

Posted by: McGehee at 5:56 PM on 1 January 2008