Archived viruses, was Re: Reasonable price for a complete SOL-20 system?

Rich Alderson RichA at
Mon Oct 24 18:04:29 CDT 2016

From: Sean Conner
Sent: Monday, October 24, 2016 2:00 PM

>  MS-DOS had CP/M at its heart, and it had its fair share of virii (viruses? 
>  What is the plural of a computer virus?).


The Latin word _virus_ means "slime, poison", and is a collective noun, like
English _milk_ or _flour_ or _sugar_.  It did not form a plural at all.

Furthermore, it is a neuter (neither masculine nor feminine) o-stem noun, very
very odd because it ends in -us rather than -um in the nominative.  -us is
overwhelming the marker of a masculine o-stem, or occasionally of a masculine
or feminine u-stem (whose plural would be in -us), and very rarely of a
feminine o-stem, or often of a neuter s-stem (like _genus_ "kind", whose plural
is _genera_ "kinds").

The -i marker of nominative plurals is restricted to those masculine and
feminine o-stems; -ii is restricted further, to o-stems in which the stem vowel
is preceded by -i-, so _domus, domi_ "house, houses" vs. _genius, genii_
"tutelary spirit(s) attendant on a person from birth", _Julius, Julii_ "a
_gens_ (clan) name, members of the Julian _gens_", _Cornelius, Cornelii_, etc.

Neuters in all ancient Indo-European languages, such as Sanskrit, Greek, and
Latin, end in -a (or a regular development from *-a).  Presumably, if one were
able to specify a plural in Latin of the word _virus_, it would by rule have to
end in -a.  But the speakers of Latin did not speak of discrete slimes, it all
being one to them, so we will never know.

The word _virus_ was used as a synonym for _venom_ as late as the early 20th
Century in English, as in Burroughs's description of the deadliness of the
_virus_ of Martian serpents (in _The Gods of Mars_), which confused me no end
when I was reading the Martian novels for the first time at the age of 14.  The
modern usage derives from the medical term _filterable virus_, referring to a
disease-causing agent which was unresolvable under a microscope but which could
be mechanically filtered out of water, unlike a poisonous chemical dissolved in
water.  The word _filterable_ was dropped at some point in the literature, then
electron microscopes came along which *could* resolve viruses, and we come into
the modern world.

More than you ever wanted to know, I'm sure.


Rich Alderson
Vintage Computing Sr. Systems Engineer
Living Computers: Museum + Labs
2245 1st Avenue S
Seattle, WA 98134

mailto:RichA at

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