Re: input and output -Reply

Subject: Re: input and output -Reply
From: Melissa Hunter-Kilmer <mhunterk -at- BNA -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 1996 09:38:35 EST

On Wed, 14 Aug 1996, Shmuel Ben-Artzi <sba -at- NETMEDIA -dot- NET -dot- IL> bewailed the
evolution of language thusly:

> Oh the evils of allowing a language to grow and develop as a tool of social
> development, of allowing it to fall into the hands of the common man.

> Once we knew without even bothering to question (because the ancient Romans
> told us so) that "data" was most certainly a plural. We knew because it had
> a more solitary, singular form, "datum" (lit. a single piece of
> information). But modern society, as it is wont to do, claimed the
> gregarious "data" as its own while eschewing its lonlier sister, "datum".

I admire anybody who can use the word "eschew" in a sentence that doesn't
mention a sneeze. However, my admiration does not keep me from bringing up a
datum that our colleague, the learned Mr. Ben-Artzi, has apparently overlooked.
"Data" is neuter plural. In Latin (and Greek, but who asked?), neuter plural
nouns take a singular verb. So one could argue that people use a singular noun
with "data" because they are only following the traditional Latin (and Greek --
don't forget Greek!) construction.

A poster whose name and e-mail address are, alas, losts in the mists of the Net
>Once the number is decided by the
>public, it has no plural or in the fewer cases where it is
>seen as plural, it has no singular (plural of cow is cows,
>not cattle)).


Years ago, my mother was on a date with a farmer's son, a taciturn young man.
My mother (a farmer's daughter who should have known better) was trying
frantically to make light conversation. Finally she was reduced to making
comments about the scenery and said, "Oh, look at the cows!" (She must really
have been desperate. Near Decatur, Illinois, in the 1930s, this kind of remark
was rather like saying, "Oh, look, a convenience store!" in a modern suburb.)

Her date looked at her contemptuously and said, "Them ain't cows. Them's

And the tech writing moral of the story is (she said, desperately trying to
dodge the impending flames) -- um -- know your users! That's right, know your
users. (Whew.)

Tongue planted firmly in cheek, I remain
Melissa A. Hunter-Kilmer
(I'm still not speaking for the company, and it is unlikely
that I ever will)

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