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Wikipedia tells me that indicia is the plural of indicium meaning an indication or sign :

Harry Potter names, characters and related indicia are copyright.

But indicia is also :

A preprinted marking on a mailpiece which shows that postage has been paid by the sender.

(The plural of indicia - in this case - is indicias, apparently.)

Wikipedia

Thus one homonym is singular and the other is plural.

Is there a term for this and are there any other examples of this in English ?

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  • I would say the second is a bastardisation of the first word. Like a QR code consists of QR markings
    – mplungjan
    Jan 25, 2018 at 6:32
  • @mplungjan So they muddled it up, using the plural 'indicia' instead of the singular 'indicium' and then just invented yet another plural 'indicias' out of thin air ? Not very clever of them.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 25, 2018 at 6:34
  • But it makes sense: this postal indicia has many indicia showing it has been paid :)
    – mplungjan
    Jan 25, 2018 at 6:36
  • @mplungjan Are you saying that an indicia is the whole QR code ? Or are you saying that each little black square is an indicia ?
    – Nigel J
    Jan 25, 2018 at 6:38
  • I was using a poor example. The second one is better. It has the name of the postal service, a QR code, it is personal etc. Many indicia (markings) on one indicia (postal thing)
    – mplungjan
    Jan 25, 2018 at 6:42

1 Answer 1

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What you describe could be (tentatively) called a "semantic singularization of plural words", i.e. the fact that plural words may, by assimilation drift to a singular meaning. Since the "-a" form in plural is not common in English, and rather sounds like a singular, it is all the more likely to occur.

Hence indicia, plural form ultimately from Latin index. The word also exists in English, and does its job as a singular of indicia:

Something that reveals or indicates; a sign: "Her face ... was a fair index to her disposition" (Samuel Butler)..

According to American Heritage it is "Markings on bulk mailings used as a substitute for stamps or cancellations." If your definition uses a singular it is either some kind of simplication by the person who wrote the definition, or a bastardization (which could be considered the same thing).

Note that you have a similar issue with criterion/criteria where the form criteria has been used as a singular for some time.

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