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The word vacua is a plural of the word vacuum, one definition of which is a vacuum cleaner. While I imagine that the plural vacua is usually reserved for referring to multiple spaces devoid of matter, can it also be used to refer to multiple vacuum cleaners?

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    In a humorous way, certainly. If humor is not your intent, there seems little reason to use it. It can be used--it is there in the dictionary for all who look to find, but why? It's virtually nonexistent on ngram, and personally I've never heard it. In a non-joking way, it seems pretentious, or wrong, or contrary--IMHO. – user66965 Apr 14 '16 at 15:22
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    Is this a more general question, "if X is its own word with plural Xa, but also X is sometimes short for Y, which has plural Ys - should we use Xs or Xa to mean Ys?" or is it specific to each case? - hoping someone will know – lessthanideal Apr 14 '16 at 16:07
  • In vacuum cleaner, vacuum stands for a lack of material and therefore cannot be pluralized. It is the same for "weight loss": if you want to explicitly refer to many losses, you will say "weight losses" and not "weights losses" (unless weights refers to dumbbells). – Graffito Apr 14 '16 at 17:09
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    @Drew--You might get a vacuous stare. – Steven Littman Apr 15 '16 at 0:48
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    @StevenLittman - In the sense of "vacuum cleaner", the use of word "vacuum" results from the omission of the noun "cleaner" and "vacuum" became an English word with a very different meaning that its latin origin. We can then consider that its plural form shall follow the English usage (with a final 's') rather than the latin(um->a). – Graffito Apr 15 '16 at 9:05
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Vacua as a plural of vacuum (cleaner) would be incorrect.

In vacuum cleaner, cleaner is the noun, and vacuum is an attributive noun (a virtual adjective) specifying how the cleaner works, (compare: whisk broom, push broom, diesel engine, etc.). Note that vacuum is singular, as are most adjectives. Only the noun receives the suffix 's'.

Since vacuum is short for vacuum cleaner, it's pluralized the same as the term it's short for.

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  • I wonder whether there are similar examples in which an attributive noun abbreviates a whole phrase and takes on a different pluralization as a result. – Jim Conant Aug 16 '17 at 22:20

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