English is constantly evolving. The meanings of words shift over time, and the formal grammatical rules are much more fluid than most of us realize. English also regularly creates new words and absorbs words from other languages.
When it comes to English, I am not usually dogmatic. I am not a master grammarian. I love using they as a singular pronoun. I embrace sentence fragments, as long as they serve the reader.
But as a haiku poet, there is one rule where I draw a line in the sand. The plural of haiku is haiku. Here I will make my stand—on this hill I will die.
While I grudgingly accept that “haikus” is a popular word, I believe this is because of a swell of enthusiasm for the art form among those unfamiliar with the origins of haiku in English.
Where Haiku Comes From
Haiku is the transliteration of a Japanese word for a Japanese style of poetry. Haiku is not technically a Japanese word because Japanese does not use the same alphabet that we do. Haiku in Japanese is written as 俳句.
Haiku began to appear in English in the 19th century as translations of Japanese poetry became available. Soon thereafter, poets began writing English language haiku. In Japanese, a haiku is a three-line poem that usually deals with nature or the changing seasons. There is of course much more to it than that, but this is not an exegesis on the nature of haiku.
Because of the differences in the structure of English and Japanese, English language haiku is arguably a completely different poetic form than Japanese haiku.
This is the beauty of cultural exchanges and the fluidity of English.
Why the Plural of Haiku is Haiku?
But, why is the plural of haiku not haikus? For one, since we borrowed haiku from Japanese, it makes sense that we use the word like it is used in the original language. Japanese does not change the form of a word to make it plural. Instead, the sense of singular or plural is gained from context.
This might result in awkward construction in English if haiku was the only word that functioned as both a plural and singular form. But, it is not. We also have words like deer and fish that work this way.
We don’t say, “Look at all those deers on the lawn,” or “I caught five fishes today.” Instead we use deer or fish, whether we are talking about one critter or five critters.
Haiku is not the only Japanese word to enter the English vernacular. One of the Japanese words that has made the biggest splash in American English over the past twenty years is pokémon. This word means pocket monster. You will recognize it as the irrepressible brand of game characters created by Nintendo.
Pokémon is always used as both the plural and singular.
If this rule is good enough for Pokémon, it is good enough for haiku.
Not adding an “s” to the end of haiku represents a sensible standard for all of the words we adopt from Japanese. The most sensible plural for emoji is emoji, for example.
I am far from the only one who holds to the steadfast to the notion of eradicating the use of haikus as a plural.
One of my goals as a haiku poet is to spread the love of this short three-line poetic form. It is perfect for writing about anything. It is also a useful tool for increasing mindfulness and discovering your hidden thoughts and feelings.
As part of my mission to spread the love of haiku, I must also stand up for the idea that the plural of haiku is haiku.
After all, life is not complete unless you have a trivial hill to die on.
Here I make my stand
On this hill, I will perish
Haiku is plural