English has a lot of words derived fairly directly from Latin, mainly thanks to our penchant for things scientific. And mathematical. The ecclesiastics had their fingers in the pie, too. Today let’s look at datum, a piece of information. Its plural is still a Latin plural, data.
(First, I need to mention that the field of surveying and geographical measurement has a special meaning for datum, which we won’t go into here. It’s how they name a location.)
Datum comes from the Latin word for “give,” and it came to mean the thing given. I suppose an analogy is the football expression called a hand-off. Anyway, the plural of datum is data. For some reason, people don’t have a problem saying “data,” but they have a hard time thinking of “data” as a plural, and pretty much the only people who do it right (i.e. use a plural verb) are scientific folks and pedants. If you read Scientific American, the paper version anyway, you’ll see the articles say things like “the data are…” rather regularly.
All that to serve as an excuse to pass along the June 26, 2013 edition of Sheldon. The duck gets it right.
We don’t have problems with bacterium, paramecium, and flagellum (bacteria, paramecia, flagella), so don’t let get datum and data fool you.
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As if there were such a thing as a small mistake. It depends on your perspective, of course. I have a rule in cooking: if you have basically good ingredients, and don’t destroy them, you’ll come up with something that’s at least acceptable. If your cake falls, serve it under or over ice cream. It’ll still be pretty good. On the other hand, a single typo in your résumé could keep you from getting that interview.
Perhaps I can define a small mistake as one that’s easy to fix. Small mistakes are not the hard part of writing.
Today, class, we look at some words whose plurals are easy to get wrong.
Data—This word is plural. The singular is datum. You generally see this used correctly in scientific writing, where they perform a lot of statistical analysis on piles (scientific term) of data, and you can see sentences like “The data are fairly convincing; only one datum is an outlier.”
Media—This word is a plural. When we say “mass media,” we refer to all the TV and radio stations, and all the newspapers and magazines. The singular is medium, and sometimes you see it when someone refers to one of the media.
The medium of radio is the only one you can use while you do something else.
This word has become contaminated by the use of “medium” to refer to someone who holds séances, and the plural of this word is “mediums.” I predict that “media” will eventually become a singular and its plural will become “medias.” But not yet, so get it right.
Criteria—Our third plural. The singular is criterion. I remember a fancy restaurant in St. Paul named The Criterion. They claimed to be the standard by which other restaurants should judge themselves. I ate there once. They cut the lettuce for the salad instead of tore it. Didn’t meet my criterion for how to prepare a salad. I recently read a pretty good article about mistakes you can make in a job interview. The article got “criteria” wrong, and it’s this sentence in the article that gave me the idea for this post.
When I am hiring though, and if you happen to apply, the above is the criteria I will use to decide.
Since the writer was referring to a list of five items, she should have written “…the above are the criteria…”
These mistakes are commonly made by well-educated professionals. The plurals are slightly more high-falootin’ than the singulars, so I could have classified this lesson under my oft-used heading, “the sin of pretentiousness.”