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The English word forum (pronounced with a long ‘o’ in the first syllable, which rhymes with ‘bore’ or ‘core’, IPA: /'fɔːrəm/) is a transliteration of the Latin noun forum (pronounced with a short ‘o’). The Latin origin of the English word can lead those who want to show off the fact that they know Latin to use fora as its plural (since this is the plural in Latin - see -a in Latin). However, this can seem affected in the 21st century, and in academic English the preferred plural is forums.

The Latin forum was a market-place or public open space in a town or city. (The word forum is related to the adverb forīs, ‘outside’, ‘out of doors’.) In a city or large town there could be several fora, some with commercial purposes such as the forum boarium (cattle market) or the forum piscatorium (fish market), others with civic, legal, or political functions. In Rome the main forum, known as the Forum Romanum (‘Roman Forum’) or Forum Magnum (‘Great Forum’}, was a public space in which elections were held, speeches delivered, and trials conducted. Whatever other functions a forum might have, it was always a place where citizens could meet to talk to one another, to discuss the events of the day, and to exchange gossip.

It is this last feature of the ancient Roman forum, i.e., its being a location for the exchange of information, opinion, and ideas, that is central to the use of the English word forum. A forum in English is, essentially, a ‘space’ for discussion, particularly discussion of issues of public interest, or of matters which interest members of a particular profession. This ‘space’ may be, e.g., a face-to-face meeting in a physical location (such as the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland when politicians, business leaders, economists, and others meet to discuss world problems); or a magazine or journal, to which contributors submit material in the form of articles or essays; or an internet site where contributors hold conversations through the medium of posted messages.

Additionally, and particularly in North American English, a forum may be a ‘space’ in which trials are held and legal issues are decided, i.e., a court or tribunal.