A couple of weeks ago, I received an email informing me that from now on, we are to stop using the word memo and use memorandum instead.
I kid you not.
So, of course, I immediately wrote back asking for further clarification: to pluralize, should we use memoranda or memorandums?
On average days, I go through about 50 to 100 emails in my inbox. On busy days like that particular one, I sometimes surpass 200. I don’t linger too long on any particular email if I don’t have to, but this one — I don’t know — I couldn’t let go of.
It kept bugging me (in the already crowded space between my ears) that someone thought the word memorandum sounded more sophisticated, more official than simple “memo.” On that sleepless night, I did some research.
“Used originally as mere Latin, and usually abbreviated mem., to introduce a note of a thing to be done” [Century Dictionary]; by 1540s it came to mean the note itself. The Latin plural is memoranda.Online Etymology Dictionary (Douglas Harper)
Not surprisingly, memorandum was shortened to memo for ease of use. What I didn’t know was that it was shortened in the late 19th century. We’re talking over 130 years of common usage!
So we go back to using the word memorandum in all future memoranda until such time we are brought back into the 21st century with the rest of the world which, I hate to say, doesn’t even use the term memo anymore.
Ironically, Merriam-Webster uses “informal” as part of its definition of memorandum.