My duodecimoplex and other complications

An official form that must be filed with 12 copies prompts some musings on how hardworking the metaphor ‘folding’ is in our language.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Jesse Marsolais examines the ink on a printed page after running paper through a letterpress while working at Firefly Press on Aug. 15, 2012 in Allston, Massachusetts.

I confess to being mildly annoyed recently to learn that an official application I needed to submit had to be filed with 12 copies of everything. 

Twelve? Really? They don’t have copiers over there? I didn’t stay annoyed very long, though. In situations like this, true wordsmiths don’t get mad; they get even more eager to check their dictionaries and figure out other ways of describing whatever is irking them.

“Your application should be submitted twelvefold?” Or “in twelvefold?” Or “in 12-fold,” to follow newspaper style and use numerals for numbers over 10? Hmph.

As I waited for my copies in the print shop, I found myself longing for a spiffy Latin-derived word that would be to 12 copies what triplicate is to three.

That’s how I came up with duodeci­moplex. I borrowed “duodecim” from the Latin word for 12; the “plex” suffix indicates “fold.” 

Duodecimo is also a common book size, or used to be, with 12 leaves printed per traditionally sized “sheet.” Duodecimo editions (“12mo” to the cognoscenti) typically measure 5 by 7 inches.

I can’t claim that duodecimoplex is actually in any dictionary. But I was interested to see how many -plicate forms are fairly accessible.

OneLook, my go-to online resource for quick comparisons across multiple dictionaries, shows numerous entries for not only the familiar duplicate and triplicate but also quadruplicate, quintuplicate, and on through octuplicate. There’s even centuplicate, for “hundredfold.” 

The -plicate part comes from the past participle of the Latin plicare, “to fold,” as the Online Etymology Dictionary explains. That root shows up not only in these numbering terms but in a raft of words referring to some sort of notional “folding.” 

Complicated, for instance, comes from Latin words meaning “folded together,” and not necessarily in a neat Martha Stewart sort of way. Long before there was Facebook, with its status updates, complicated meant “tangled.” Compli­cit, implicit, imply, implication – they all share this idea of “folding in” or “folding together,” and a root in plicare

Simple is part of this same family, but the metaphor there is something “folded,” but only once. The ply in plywood is another instance of this Latin root.

The native English equivalent of -plicate is -fold. Those who delight in the way English seems to have two sets of words for everything note the neat matchup between, say, hundredfold and centuplicate. 

The manifolds of automobiles are, etymologically, chambers with several (or multiple) outlets – multiple is a Latin-­derived equivalent of the native English manifold.

And back to the quest for an equivalent to “twelvefold”: It took just a little more dictionary searching, and then I found it.

When the local official who received my stack of paper saw that I had 12 copies of each page, she gave an appreciative thumbs up. It made me glad I knew to submit everything in duodecuplicate – and yes, dear reader, that is the word.

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