[Taxacom] Family names, usage.

Robin Leech releech at telusplanet.net
Wed Feb 20 19:31:30 CST 2008

I usta hafta teach English grammar.  Mike is right.
Even the manuals for Microsoft have, "This data is...".

I will quit trying to promote This datum is, and these 
data are, when I see, "These datas are...". 

I suggest you consult The Careful Write: a Modern
Guide to English Usage, by Theodore M. Bernstein.
See "Data" on pages 130 and 131.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Michael A. Ivie" <mivie at montana.edu>
To: "Richard Zander" <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
Cc: <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 1:52 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Family names, usage.

> From Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words:
> *data*.  Perhaps no other word better illustrates the extent to which 
> questions of usage are often largely a matter of fashion.  In Latin, 
> data is of course a plural, and until fairly recent times virtually all 
> authorities insisted, often quite strenuously, that it be treated as 
> such in English.  Thus "The data was fed into a computer program shown 
> as SLOSH"  /(New Yorker) /should be "The data were fed .. ."
>            The problem is that etymology doesn't always count for much 
> in English. If it did, we would have to write, "My stamina aren't what 
> they used to be" or ''I've just paid two insurance premia." For 
> centuries we have been adapting Latin words to fit the needs and 
> patterns of English. /Museums, agendas,/ /stadiums, premiums, /and many 
> others are freely, and usually unexceptionably, inflected on the English 
> model, not the Latin one.
>            Indeed, many users of English show an increasing tendency to 
> treat all Latin plurals as singulars, even those that have traditionally 
> been treated as plural, most notably /criteria,/ /media, phenomena, 
> strata, /and /data. /With the first four of these the impulse is 
> probably better resisted, partly as a concession to convention, but also 
> because a clear and useful distinction can be made between the singular 
> and plural forms. In stratified rock, for instance, each stratum is 
> clearly delineated. In any list of criteria, each criterion is 
> distinguishable from every other. /Media /suggests-or ought to 
> suggest-one medium and another medium and another. In each case the 
> elements that make up the whole are invariably distinct and separable.
>            But with /data /such distinctions are much less evident. 
> This may be because, as Professor Randolph Quirk has suggested, we have 
> a natural inclination to regard /data /as an aggregate-that is, as a 
> word in which we perceive the whole more immediately than the parts. 
> Just as we see a bowlful of sugar as a distinct entity rather than as a 
> collection of granules (which is why we don't say, "Sugar are sweet"), 
> we tend to see /data /as a complete whole rather than one datum and 
> another datum and another. In this regard it is similar to /news /(which 
> some nineteenth-century users actually treated as a plural) and 
> /information./
>            The shift /is /clearly in the direction of treating /data 
> /as a singular, as /The New Yorker /and several other publications have 
> decided to do. Personally, and no doubt perversely, I find that I have 
> grown more attached to /data /as a plural with the passage of time. I 
> think there is a certain elegance and precision in "More data are needed 
> to provide a fuller picture of the DNA markers" /(Nature) /than "The 
> data by itself is vacuous" /(New York Times). /But that /is /no more 
> than my opinion.
>            Whichever side you come down on, it is worth observing that 
> the sense of /data /is generally best confined to the idea of raw, 
> uncollated bits of information, the sort of stuff churned out by 
> computers, and not extended to provide a simple synonym for /facts /or 
> /reports /or /information, /as it was in this /New/ /York Times 
> /headline: ''Austria magazine reports new data on Waldheim and Nazis." 
> The "data" on inspection proved to be evidence and allegations-words 
> that would have more comfortably fit the context, /if /not the
> -- 
> __________________________________________________
> Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D., F.R.E.S.
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