word to your mater

Okay people, let’s get one thing straight: the word “data” is plural.  That’s right, PLURAL.  As in, more than one.  The data show.  The data suggest.  The data I’ve informally gathered demonstrate that people frequently use and abuse that poor word.  The singular–a piece of data–is datum.  Want to know another word that’s plural?  Alumni.  Yep.  Alumni are people.  One graduated man is an alumnus; a woman is an alumna.  A group of all-female graduates would be alumnae.

I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.   

Decimate, a word of Latin origin, means “to destroy a great number or proportion of” or “to kill every tenth person of” (thus reducing a population by 10%, which makes sense, given that the prefix of the word comes from decem, ten).  It does NOT mean “to destroy completely,” but lately I’ve been seeing it used to imply just that.  I don’t know why, since English has some very handy words which really do have that meaning, like “annihilate” and “eradicate.”  I guess people like the sound of “decimate,” but it’s really incorrect to use it to describe utter destruction.  So let’s try and extirpate this little error, shall we?

2 thoughts on “word to your mater

  1. I would like to add one that drives me crazy: “media” is plural!! “The media ARE biased”!

    and one of these days someone will decimate you (in the sense of annihilate) for being a grammar nazi 😉

  2. You are exactly correct, Svinka (about the first part of the comment. As for the last part, I should be getting a Nobel Prize for preventing the butchery of language). “Media” is another example of a misused Latin plural [noun], the singular of which is “medium.”

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