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Sep 1, 05 - 7:38 AM
Pedantic plurals?

Forgive me if this has been asked before, but does Miss Prism have a ruling on the use of data? Is it singular or plural? A similarity to agenda has been pointed out to me. Oh, and does she, or indeed anyone, have a good reply to the accusation that one is being pedantic?
Miss Prism

Sep 1st, 2005 - 7:10 PM
Re: Pedantic plurals?

Data is clearly a plural. Does anyone use it otherwise? I can imagine there are many who do not realise that the singular is datum, but is there much temptation to use data in the singular? Is it not rather like spaghetti? How often does one have occasion to refer to a single spaghetto?

On the other hand, I have certainly heard people speaking of "a media", which sounds perfectly absurd.
Miss Sarah

Sep 2nd, 2005 - 7:39 AM
Re: Pedantic plurals?

Here are some of the most commonly misused plurals:-

singular plural
medium > media
forum > fora
virus > viri
campus > campi
cactus > cacti
fish > fish
species > species
Princess Mushroom

Sep 2nd, 2005 - 7:25 PM
Re: Pedantic plurals?

I think the problem arises not over people's saying "a data" when they mean "a datum" but over their using data in what appears to be the singular in such phrases as "the data is inconclusive."

However, I don't think the usage here is really singular. It is agglomerate - like "butter". The word "news" is used in the same way: "the news is disturbing" is not intended to imply news in the singular - a single item of news - but news in the agglomerate sense, as in "the butter is sour."

Now "news" is technically plural, as Queen Victoria recognised when she said "these news are most distressing". However the use of news as an agglomerate noun - as if we were talking about quantities of a substance - is well established. If I tell you "I have received a lot of news about this", I fancy you would ask "how much?" not "how many?"

This, I think is also happening with the word "data" and I would suggest that it is acceptable usage.

Of course, if one wants to refer to a single datum, then the word must be datum, not data.

Sep 2nd, 2005 - 10:37 PM
Re: Pedantic plurals?

I think that seems most satisfactory and sensible. Spaghetti is surely another case of the agglomerate singular: I am sure no one says : "The spaghetti are delicious". The dry pasta seems more suitable for the plural treatment, e.g. "The spaghetti are all the same length", though "The spaghetti are in the jar" seems odd.

I certainly prefer "a datum" to "an item of data", which sounds somewhat ridiculous.
Ellen Dale

Sep 2nd, 2005 - 11:42 PM
Re: Pedantic plurals?

I am not as strict as Miss Sarah. Just because English uses a foreign word unchanged in the singular doesn't mean it must always use the foreign plural too. I would like to hear more often what Miss Drusilla said recently in another thread: �Both are correct�.

Much is made of English being a living language, and of course it is, though it should be slow-growing like an oak, while regularly producing and losing new leaves, not sprawling and riotous like a bramble bush, full of traps for the unwary. Slang is too prolific, perhaps because it spreads too quickly. Slang is short for �secret language�; it is supposed to baffle outsiders, not be picked up by them.

Sep 3rd, 2005 - 2:09 PM
Re: Pedantic plurals?

In my experience people who call you pedantic know you are right; they just prefer to be wrong!

Fair point, Miss Dale, though generally where "both are correct", one is more correct than the other (excuse my Orwellism).