Data

Bah. Lawrence Lessig insists on using “data” as a strict plural in Code, and it’s driving me crazy to see “data are” and so forth. It basically causes a misparse, which totally breaks my stream of reading and throws me off.

It’s a collective noun now, no matter where it came from.

Incidentally, I’m posting this at 1:01, which in my file naming scheme becomes 0101. Highly appropriate for this post.

16 comments on “Data
  1. star_ash says:

    I’ve got to disagree with you there. Data are plural. That’s what every science class I’ve ever taken has taught me. It annoys me to see people use it as singular (“data is” etc.) The singular is “datum.”

  2. flammifera says:

    You descriptive linguist you. I also really want to read some Lessig. (I’m currently reading my first James Bond novel.)

    Unrelatedly, the voicemail you left for me about GoF cracked me up. It was hilarious. :) How can you hate a friend who loves you so much? ::halo appears above Joanna’s head::

  3. Nicolas Ward says:

    Yes, I know what it used to be in general, and still is in science… but in the general usage it’s a collective noun.

    Data is collected and analyzed. You can look at an individual datum… but the data consists of some number of datums? ;o)

  4. Nicolas Ward says:

    The vast majority of English speakers have not taken Latin. All of you classicists out there need to suck it up and accept data and media as collective nouns, and octupi as the plural of octopus.

  5. carpenter says:

    I think it’s a little unfair of you to claim that people shouldn’t do the grammatically correct thing just because a lot of other people don’t. Things which are incorrect become correct (or at least not worth bothering about) all the time. Things which are correct becoming incorrect is a much, much slower process, and we are very much not there yet in this case.

  6. metaplasmus says:

    No, we need to accept octopuses as the plural of octopus. Hypercorrective Latinate pluralization is decidedly not okay when the supposed plural doesn’t exist in the first place.

  7. antimony says:

    And for those of us who were taught it was a plural (long before I started latin, mind you), it throws us every time we see “data is”. There really isn’t a good solution, except the highly annoying one of never using data as the subject of a sentence, which I’ve actually done in academic papers, just to avoid the controversy.

  8. wayman says:

    There really isn’t a good solution, except the highly annoying one of never using data as the subject of a sentence, which I’ve actually done in academic papers,

    You could go one further, and never use data at all in an academic paper, but then I think you’ve crossed the realm from “science” to “popular science” :-)

  9. flurious says:

    I’ve never taken Latin either.

    I find that “media” is a much more egregious error, however, since its singular form is also commonly used!

  10. Data IS a Star Trek character!

    That was funnier in my head. :)

    – Kelsey.

  11. Although I think that “media” used as a collective noun to refer to, for example, the press as a whole is different, i.e. “the media is reporting…” is correct.

  12. star_ash says:

    I’ve never taken Latin and frankly don’t give a hoot what the correct Latin form is. I happen to like octopi as a plural because it’s easier to say than octopuses (or whatever the alternative would be). However, you are still wrong about data, unless referring to the character on Star Trek. I don’t know what they teach you over there in CS, but in biology I would have gotten points taken off had I turned in a paper using “data” as singular. Of course, the Swarthmore Bio department is the ultimate authority on language ;)

  13. I’ve been told it’s “octopodes” based on the origin (Greek). Though the dictionary includes “octopuses” and “octopi” as valid plurals, but not “octopodes,” so basically, the lesson here is that word origin accounts for zilch.

  14. orawnzva says:

    You know, there’s a difference between writing a scientific paper without data and writing a scientific paper without “data”.

  15. Nicolas Ward says:

    I should pay attention to my Friend Of list… I didn’t know you had a new username.

Nurd Up!