I was working on a crossword puzzle with the clue bearer of gold, frankincense, or myrrh. I immediately thought that the answer is obviously either "magi" or "wise man," but then realized that the puzzle called for a 5 letter word so neither fit. Eventually I figured out that magi is a plural Latin word, so its singular form would be "magus" which was the correct answer.

Is it normal to use the word "magus" in informal, or even formal, English? I've never seen it before. I have however often seen magi used as a singular noun.

  • The English word (derived from magus) is mage, of which magi is an alternate plural, mages being more common. – Jon Purdy Jan 30 '11 at 8:56

Both “magus” and “magi” are attested in dictionaries. For example, in the New Oxford American Dictionary:

magus (pl. magi) a member of a priestly caste of ancient Persia. (See also Magi.) • a sorcerer.

magi: plural form of magus .

“Magi”, with a capital M, is only used in the plural:

Magi (the Magi)

the “wise men” from the East who brought gifts to the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:1), said in later tradition to be kings named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

So, the most common use (those specific Magi) only exists in the plural, though the singular of the common noun exists.


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