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.

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