Issue 141, page 4

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From Stephen Harrington:

At the risk of seeming (being?) a pedant, I would want to distinguish between plural and collective nouns.  Plural nouns, such as data and stadia, which take their plural form from the languages from which they are borrowed rather than adding s, take plural verbs.  Collective nouns, such as audience, crowd, pride (of lions), take singular verbs.  I hope this might be of help to your correspondent, Kellie.  Thanks for TOWFI. I really enjoy it.

Technically that is correct, but these days what were once considered plural nouns, like data and media, have become collective nouns (much to the chagrin of pedants everywhere) in everyday speech (and writing).  That is why we hear things like "The data shows that..." or "The media is saying that..."  If one is going to treat data and media as collective nouns, then one should follow the verb-agreement rule that we discussed here last week.

Yes, we were negligent in not mentioning the fact that data, media, and similar words are technically plural versus collective.  Thanks to all of you who wrote to take us to task.

The foreign plural rule sounds reasonable but in practice it just gets too complicated.  Take octopus, for instance.  The accepted plural is octopusses; only pedants and marine biologists use the original Greek plural, octopoda.   Many people, on the other hand, attempt a "foreign" plural but assume, incorrectly, that the word is Latin and say octopi.  (Such individuals have no valid excuse for existence and should be smacked upside their sorry heads with a copy of Webster's. -Eds.)  

And that's just the classical languages.  What about exotic tongues like Tagalog?  Do you say boondocks or... what is the plural of bundook?

From Patrick et Nicole Grécourt:

Mots d'heures Gousses: translation?

Ah, this is another one of those crazy phrases which, in French, means little or nothing (literally "words of the hours of Gousses") but when uttered in French sounds rather like the English name Mother Goose, of fairy tale fame.  There are whole books of such rhymes - surreal gibberish in French but hilariously close to the sound of English nursery rhymes.

From Sparky:

I was looking at Issue 140 yesterday and couldn't remember if I had read Issue 139 yet. So I went to Back Issues and I only found Issue 138 and earlier.  Hmm. "Maybe I caught 'em in mid-update", says I.  Tried the Reload button, no change.  Ok, so it is tomorrow now (or was it yesterday then?). I try again. Same result.  So where did Issue 139 go? On holiday? :-)

Yes, we were behind in updating the back issues.  All should now be right with the world - both Issue 139 and Issue 140 are now available through the Back Issues page.


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