Arg! Latin Plurals!

rogersgeorge on June 21st, 2016

…and I’m not referring to Spain or Mexico, either. I also can’t say “Roman plurals” because Rome is the country, not the language. So it’s Latin plurals. English has long been a language that borrows freely from other languages, but by now we should be used to the Latin borrowings; it’s been long enough.

Let’s start with yesterday, which was the summer solstice. (Usually it’s the 21st, but this year is a leap year.) We have a winter solstice, too, so that makes two solstices per year. It’s pronounced like an ordinary plural, not “solstiseez.”

Then there’s poor old tired out “data.” The singular is “datum,” but a collection of data is often thought of as a single thing, so “data” is often treated like a singular. The curmudgeon in me says alas. If you read Scientific American, though, you’ll find that they always get it right. For them, “data” always gets a plural verb.

Here’s another one people get wrong. The singular is simulacrum, plural is simulacra. But not here.

But as our diligent Weekend Editor, Emanuel Maiberg, highlighted in his comprehensive ranking of the new icons, the latest roll out threatens to shake up everything we know about suggestive cartoon simulacrums: [read the article for the rest.]

On to the word that stimulated this post in the first place: millennia. “Millennia” is a plural, folks! The singular is “millennium.” I ran into this word being misused by some folks who ought to know better. Here’s the quote:

Comets, meteors, and meteorites have been shooting across works of art for more than a millennia.

Harrumpf. The article itself is worth a look, though. Lots of good pictures of early representations of comets.

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Weird plural

rogersgeorge on December 18th, 2013

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.

sheldon june26

We don’t have problems with bacterium, paramecium, and flagellum (bacteria, paramecia, flagella), so don’t let get datum and data fool you.