Re: Latin Plurals

Subject: Re: Latin Plurals
From: Melissa Hunter-Kilmer <mhunterk -at- BNA -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 9 Oct 1997 09:09:05 EST

Jennifer Hubbard <sg96d733 -at- POST -dot- DREXEL -dot- EDU> wrote:

> In my work, the terms "data" and "media" are used frequently.
> Usually people treat them as singular, even though they are
> technically plural. According to Webster's, this is now accepted
> usage for "data." (Webster's gives me no help on "media.") What's
> common, accepted usage for "media," "errata," and other plurals that
> don't sound plural just because they don't end in s? Should we have
> different standards for technical writing and everyday usage? (I
> tend to say "data are" in technical reports, but "data is" in
> conversation.)

Nancy McDonald <McDonalN -at- LCI -dot- COM> responded:

> "data" can be thought of as a collective noun, thus
> used w/ singular verb (e.g. "everyone is")

For those of you who joined techwr-l in the last few months, this is
another cyclic thread! Whoever is keeping the list on these, please
note: Latin plurals taking singular verbs needs to be on there, too.

So here's my perennial response:

It is true that the word "data" is a plural noun. It is also true
that Americans mostly treat it as a singular or collective noun.

The funny thing is that it's Latin neuter plural, which in Latin takes
a singular verb. So if you say "data is," you're really going back to
the source.

I have noticed a bunch of Latin and Greek words where the singular
form is gradually being forgotten and so the plural is assumed to be
the singular and is taking a singular verb:

datum data
medium media
criterion criteria
phenomenon phenomena

Using the plural form with a singular verb in American English is,
IMO, wrong and immoral and will corrupt the soul of the user.
-- Well, okay, maybe it won't. ;-)

Mark Wilden <Mark -at- MWILDEN -dot- COM> wrote:

> While we're on the subject of Latin plurals, the one that really
> bugs me is "virii." If one really must be pedantic (even in a
> humorous way), it's "viri" (at least I think so).

I thought the plural was "vira," because "virus" is neuter, but a
former Greek and Latin professor of mine writes:

<<Lewis & Short says 2nd declension: plural then = viri. Sorry
about the ambiguity, but it happens all the time - alas!>>

So you're right, Mark (and Bill Sullivan, you're right, too!),
it's "viri," but I think I'd go with "viruses" too. After all,
it's English now. As long as nobody takes the plural form and
uses a singular verb with it, I'm happy.

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer
mhunterk -at- bna -dot- com
(standard disclaimer)

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