Issue 140, page 4

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From Kellie G. Cobb:

What is the rule for collective nouns? I have of late heard many times "the media" referred to as a plural, i.e., "the media have... (become less independent with corporate conglomeration). Or, "the data are collected."  As a kid in grade school, I thought I learned that collective nouns (media, data, etc.,) were referred to in the singular (the data is collected, the media has become less independent with corporate conglomeration). Any thoughts?

H.W. Fowler says that in British English, a singular OR plural is acceptable, while in American English one should almost always use a singular verb.  Mike doesn't like plural verbs with collective nouns, even though he speaks British English, but what can he do?

Which would you say, "the committee was composed of ten members" or "the committee were composed of ten members"?

From Dennis Foley:

Your mention of mondegreens (mishearings of song lyrics) in No.139 might have left some readers curious about the origin of the term. Here in the Bay Area, the erudite San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll has been, well, chronicling Mondegreens since 1995. In his website introduction to this topic, Carroll says the word Mondegreens was: 

" ... coined by the writer Sylvia Wright. As a child she had heard the Scottish ballad "The Bonny Earl of Murray" and had believed that one stanza went like this: 

Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands
Oh where hae you been?
They hae slay the Earl of Murray,
And Lady Mondegreen. 

Poor Lady Mondegreen, thought Sylvia Wright. A tragic heroine dying with her liege; how poetic. When it turned out, some years later, that what they had actually done was slay the Earl of Murray and lay him on the green, Wright was so distraught by the sudden disappearance of her heroine that she memorialized her with a neologism."

Jon Carroll's complete collection of Mondegreen columns can be read and enjoyed at :

Take Our Word for It is a weekly delight. Please keep up the good work!

For those of you who did not follow the mondegreen link we provided last week, where the word's etymology was provided, here you have it!  Thank you, Dennis.

From Ray Adams:

Your NOE on the Grim Reaper caught my attention. There is a connection between death and the sickle found in biblical literature dating from 96 AD. While a sickle is not a scythe they are similar both in general construction and purpose. More importantly, the concept of death as a harvest of souls to be reaped would certainly explain the imagery of a reaper who has a grim task. 

Below is the quote from the New Testament book, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, the passage found in chapter 14 verses 14-20.

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. 

And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, "" Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.'' Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.  

And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "" Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.''  

So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses' bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.

I read TOWFI each week looking forward with anticipation of enjoyment! 

The NOE Ray Adams is referring to is the Newsletter-Only Etymology that we provide in the e-mail newsletter that is a companion to this site.  Grim reaper has also been discussed in these pages and that discussion can be found in the archives or by using our search engine.  Thank you, Ray!

From Jimmie Ellis:

My nose has been out of joint since I read your little throw-away line about wl- words, "If you check a 'better dictionary' you'll surely find it." I pride myself on owning more than one 'better dictionary' although NOT an OED. Not a one of the many I have had a single 'wl' word in it. I found a definition on the Dr. Dictionary internet site. I have, and regularly use, a Random House Dictionary of the English Language-unabridged, a Websters' Third New International-unabridged, Chambers 21st Century Dictionary, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, and (thanks to you) the Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary, plus John Ciardi's A Browser's Dictionary, and the Morris Dictionary of Phrase & Fable---guess what? NO 'wl' words. Just thought you'd be interested to hear. Still love your web-site. You guys do an amazing and wonderful, and brilliant job. Thank you for being there.

Yes, the term "better dictionary" was a bit vague.  It should have read "OED"!  Our mistake!  Thank you for enlightening us, Jimmie.

From Bruce Yanoshek:

A comment for Mary Ozee (last week's guestmudgeon), who says, "When in doubt about standard constructions, recast the sentence!"  The people who use this construction are unfortunately not in doubt, so her advice won't help them.

Yes, they're just wrong!


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