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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Learn how intelligent the octopus is in 6 minutes!

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Neil: Hello and welcome to 6 Minute

English. I'm Neil.

Catherine: Hello. And I'm Catherine.

Neil: Now, Catherine, how do you feel

about cephalopods?

Catherine: Er ... cephalopods?

Neil: Yeah. You do know what

cephalopods are, don't you?

Catherine: Yes, of course I do. It's a new

kind of ipod, isn't it?

Neil: Not exactly, no. A cephalopod is a

kind of sea creature, like a squid or


Catherine: Oh, cephalopods, yes, of

course. I know what a cephalopod is.

Neil: Of course you do. Well, today's

programme is all about one of these

squishy creatures,

the octopus, which apparently is a pretty

clever animal. To start, here's today's quiz

question. What is the correct plural form

of octopus? Is it:

a) octopuses, b) octopodes or c) octopi?

What do you think, Catherine?

Catherine: OK. I think this is a trick

question. I think people think that it's

'octopi', but it's actually,

there's a technical term for it, which is the

correct term and that's 'octopodes'.

But some people think, like children and

stuff, they just put the plural 's' on so they

say 'octopuses'.

So I'm going for answer b) octopodes.

Neil: Wow! Listen out for the answer at

the end of the programme, just to see

how right or wrong you are.

Now, apparently the octopus is a

remarkably intelligent creature.

They have the ability to solve some

complex problems and in one famous

case one was even

able to predict the result of World Cup

football matches.

Catherine: Oh yes, that was Paul the

octopus. I don't think he was really

psychic though. It was just a

publicity stunt by the zoo that had him,

as a way to promote their zoo.

Neil: It may have been a publicity stunt,

but he was actually quite accurate. In fact,

he correctly predicted the result of 12

matches out of 14 - that's 86%. Not bad, eh?

Catherine: That's amazing. I didn't know

he was that good. Anyway, Neil, tell us

some more about the octopus.

Neil: Well, I'll leave that to

Peter Godfrey-Smith, philosopher of

science and author of Other Minds: The

Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of

Consciousness. He is quite a fan

of our eight-tentacled friends. On the BBC

Radio 4 programme Start the Week he

said that

humans and the octopus have a common

ancestor. This is a term in science which

means a creature

from which both species evolved. Like a

very distant relative. How long ago does

he say this common ancestor lived?

Peter Godfrey-Smith: We got the octopus

as a very special evolutionary product. It's

an animal that's removed from us by a lot

of evolutionary distance. The common

ancestor that we share with an octopus

lived about 600 million years ago or

actually even a bit

longer than that. But it has a large

nervous system in a range comparable to


Catherine: So our common ancestor lived

about 600 million years ago - or maybe a

little bit longer than that.

Neil: And he says that the octopus has a

nervous system that is comparable to

vertebrates. Comparable means similar

to, like, and vertebrates is the term for the

group of animals that

have a spine or backbone. We humans

are examples of vertebrates.

Catherine: So what Godfrey-Smith is

saying is that the squishy octopus has a

nervous system which has some

similarities to our own in that it's quite


Neil: And a large nervous system is a sign

of intelligence. He goes on to talk a bit

more about how we might be able to

relate to the octopus. He talks about the

protean nature of its body.

Protean is an adjective which means

adaptable or changeable, and the

octopus's body is certainly that. Why

might that be a problem for us?

Peter Godfrey-Smith: The sensory world

of an octopus has, in some way it's

recognisable. They're very visual animals,

they're very taste-oriented animals and

those things make sense to us.

But the absence of hard parts, the

protean nature of the body and the sort

of extent of the sensitivity makes it a hard

thing to think about.

Catherine: This is interesting, isn't it?

So the octopus uses its senses of vision

and taste, like we do,

and this is something we can recognise,

but what is tricky for us is

that its form is so completely different

from ours. The octopus isn't a vertebrate

so it can change its

form and its shape very easily.

Neil: Yes, we're not used to thinking of

soft squishy things having intelligence.

And speaking of intelligence, we've been

very careful not to use the plural of

octopus so as not to

give away the answer to today's question

which was: what's the correct plural form?

a) octopuses, b) octopodes or c) octopi

Catherine, you said...

Catherine: Well, I said that some people

think it's 'octopuses', a lot of people think

it's 'octopi', but the actual answer is


Neil: And you're completely right.


Catherine: Thank you. So let's review

today's vocabulary. Cephalopod is the

name of the group of

animals to which the octopus belongs.

Neil: A publicity stunt is something a

company might do to grab your attention

and promote its products.

Like claiming an octopus can

predict the winner of football matches.

Catherine: A common ancestor is a

distant relative from which two different

species evolved.

Neil: Comparable to means 'similar to' and

vertebrates are animals that have a spine.

Catherine: And then finally we had

protean, this adjective means 'adaptable

and changeable'.

Neil: Time now for us to say goodbye but

remember you can find us on Instagram,

Facebook, Twitter,

YouTube as well as our website,

So be sure to check us on one, several or

all of those before joining us again.


Catherine: Bye!

The Description of Learn how intelligent the octopus is in 6 minutes!