Mice? Meese? Mouses?

Maggie wrote to ask about the plural of mouse when the word refers to the electronic object we cup in our right or left hand. As a librarian, she needs to report regularly on the number of mice or mouses she has sent for repair.

According to my American Heritage College Dictionary, both mice and mouses are correct for the plural of the computer mouse. Yet both those plurals don’t sound quite natural yet. I have had plenty of time to get used to calling the device a mouse. But to me, mice are still rodents.

I agree with The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, which says to avoid both mice and mouses. In fact, my MS Office spelling checker automatically corrects mouses to mousse!  (I am certain Maggie does not want to send mousse for repairs.)

The Microsoft Manual suggests mouse devices” as a plural. It’s not an expression that rolls off the tongue, but it avoids the awkward plural.

If Maggie has other equipment to list, she might try this approach:

Device: Mouse
Number sent for repair: 3.

It makes sense to work around expressions that simply don’t sound right to us. In writing classes, people often admit that although they know a certain usage is correct, they avoid it because they are not comfortable using it. Examples:

I have lain in the sun too long.
Whom will you invite?

Yes, the sentences above are correct. But if a usage seems awkward to you, just avoid it:

I have been in the sun too long.
Have you made a guest list?

Some of us avoid mice; some avoid lain and whom. And many of us enjoy mousse.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.