The subject of huntsmans or huntsmen spiders came up recently on Trish’s blog (see comments). Well for a definitive answer, I asked my sister about it the other day. Not just ‘cos she’s a smart cookie or I was trying to make conversation, but because she studied linguistics at uni. And she was able to give me the answer. She mentioned a bunch of grammatical terms that I don’t recall now, but here’s the gist of it:
The reason it’s not huntsmen is that when considering the plural of a word, you only treat it the same as a root word (man, men) if the meaning is the same. In this case the man in huntsman spider is not literally a man.
Postman. Postmen. (With a caveat that you shouldn’t be using such gender-biased terms, you sexist pig.)
Just to throw a spanner in the works, huntsman also refers to a man who hunts. So the plural of that would be huntsmen.
Another contentious one: a computer mouse does not refer literally to a mouse (even if the name was inspired by its appearance). But an oh so delicious chocolate mouse you might buy in Haigh’s does refer to a literal mouse, even if it’s just a portrayal of one.
Chocolate mouse. Chocolate mice.
Computer mouse. Computer mouses.
Make sense? It kinda does to me now…