RE: I suppose this is my most frustrating grammar error

Subject: RE: I suppose this is my most frustrating grammar error
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2002 10:41:24 -0500

Greg Hamill reports: <<No offence to Jeff (only the most recent user of
this), but "data" is a plural noun.>>

Although that's true in a strict Latin sense, and often in practice too,
your observation doesn't follow modern trends in usage now that the word has
been adopted into English; when words move between languages, their usage
often mutates. In particular, "data" is now commonly used as shorthand
(ellipsis) for "data set", "group of data", or "collection of data" in the
sciences and computer industry, and thus inherently takes the singular form.
Check a dictionary such as American Heritage, which tracks usage trends, for

Liz Goodwin followed up with the note: <<The Microsoft Manual of Style for
Technical Publications states under data: "Use as either singular or plural
in meaning but always with a singular verb . . . Do not use datum or data

Which only goes to show that Microsoft should stick to what it knows
(marketing) and not dabble in areas it really doesn't understand. This is
one of many ex cathedra pronouncements from Microsoft that both ignores
dictionary definitions and modern usage trends--while simultaneously
contradicting itself. Arrogance and ignorance in one tidy package.

"Datum" retains its technical meaning both as a single item of data and as a
reference point against which other points are measured (e.g., in surveying
and mapping); that part of Microsoft's advice is correct. However, "data
are" is both grammatically correct (as Geg noted) and commonly used when the
meaning is plural; compare "the data are contradictory" (one portion
contradicts another, thus we're talking about two portions) and "the data is
self-contradictory" (same meaning, but with data treated as a single
collective entity).

Technical writing tie-in: Based on ongoing egregious examples and comments
by experts such as STC's Don Bush, I have to say that Microsoft's original
manual of style should bear a large warning label to proceed with
caution.Caveat: I haven't conducted any extensive analysis of the book, and
am restricting my comments to Microsoft's advice on grammar and word use
rather than style, so please limit the applicability of my comments
accordingly. But I've seen enough egregious examples cited here and in two
unfavorable reviews by Don Bush to advocate caution. I'm given to understand
that the 2nd edition of their book is much improved, but on the basis of the
evidence at hand, I advocate caveat emptor.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"With Linux, customers end up being in the operating systems business,
managing software updates and security patches while making sure the
multitude of software packages don't conflict with each other."--Microsoft
spokesperson in a article

"And just how would that be different from Windows?"--Adam Engst, TidBITS

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software and a $200 onsite training voucher FREE when you buy RoboHelp
Office or RoboHelp Enterprise. Hurry, this offer expires February 28, 2002.

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