A limerick a week #49

Lies, damned lies, and linguistics!

A friend recently asked whether I treat the word data as singular or plural; is it data is or data are? It seems an innocent enough question doesn’t it, but oh boy, does it not half stir passion in the hearts of traditionalists versus modernists in the world of pop-linguistics!

Indeed, having spent some time researching the differing views, it’s clear there are unresolvable differences between the extreme singularists and the extreme pluralists (although it does look as if the latter are increasingly in the minority).

I’m a pluralist, but not an extreme one since I long ago dispensed with my antagonism towards those of a singular disposition (unless they are deserving of a wind up!). After all, it is the quality and interpretation of data that ultimately matter:

My friend says she is inconsistent in her approach to data’s plurality, but, as with language in general, she feels that if it sounds okay then it is acceptable. I think that is a pragmatic and sensible view, and, if it sounds okay to one but not t’other then we have simply to punch the other’s lights out accept the plurality of perspectives. Even ones like this:

Singular data annoys the same people that find split infinitives objectionable – pedants with no understanding of linguistics.”

… so that’s me told, but at least the UK Office of National Statistics is on my side:

The word data is a plural noun so write “data are”. Datum is the singular“.

Amen to that, and …

To me, it’s singularly bizarre
That scoundrels linguistically spar
And deny the reality
Of data’s plurality
‘Cos data ain’t ‘is’ – they just ‘are’!

Data to die for …