Tuesday, September 21, 2004

More than one

A new Verbal Energy deals with how Latin words fit into English usage. Why millenniums over millennia? And stadiums over stadia? Is media singular or plural? And is there any rhyme or reason?

Not really, she says. Each word has worked its way into the language in its own way, and we've adopted different rules for each.
A number of these Latin-derived terms have escaped from the groves of academe and the mills of bureaucracy to join everyday speech: words like "data" and "agenda" and "memorandum" and "media." Once they are out in the real world, their special plurals get banged up a bit. People tend to go with the more familiar "s" plurals – or forget that there ever was a singular.
"Data" throws people into fits. It's the plural of "datum," which has become obsolete. And sticklers are ready to wag their fingers at anyone who dares use a singular verb with it: The data overwhelmingly favors moving. They'd require "favor." But I'd say "data" has morphed into a collective noun and needs that singular.

Then there's "media." It's plural for medium, a noun in wide use. And when you're talking about more than one medium, go ahead and use "media" as a plural: She uses mixed media in her artwork. (Unless you're talking about more than one psychic; then you should use "mediums.") But when it comes to the media, as in journalists, I think this has become a collective noun, too: The media always blows this out of proportion. As Bill Walsh puts it in "The Elephants of Style":
Use the "mediums" test: If you can't find a medium in the media that is/are being mentioned, media cannot be a plural. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are part of the media, but neither ABC nor CBS nor NBC nor Fox is a medium. Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Brit Hume are part of the media, but not one of them is a medium (though Sam Donaldson might be).
Now, be careful with these thoughts. I believe in them, but your publication may not.

The Dallas Morning News, for example, says this about media: "The plural of medium. Avoid media is or was. Use media are or were." On data: "Historically a plural noun that’s becoming singular through common use. Acceptable as both plural and singular. Avoid datum except in quotations."

And AP says this about media: "In the sense of mass communication, such as magazines, newspapers, the news services, radio and television, the word is plural: The news media are resisting attempts to limit their freedom." On data: "A plural noun, it normally takes plural verbs and pronouns." And in its collective noun section, AP gives the "single unit" exception. Examples:
Right: The data is sound. (A unit.)
Right: The data have been carefully collected. (Individual items.)
Make up your own mind, and make sure your publication's rules make sense.


1 Comments:

At 11:13 PM, September 21, 2004, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

"Use the "mediums" test: If you can't find a medium in the media that is/are being mentioned, media cannot be a plural. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are part of the media, but neither ABC nor CBS nor NBC nor Fox is a medium. "

***Is too.***

 

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