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Your data are silly


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© June 2007 Anthony Lawrence

2007/06/07

If you listen to NPR in Boston, you've probably heard an ad (yeah, I know: it's not an "ad", they are "sponsors") for Tech Fusion. They are a data recovery firm and if you visit their web site, you might still find the motto they have used for years: "Where data is never lost".

The radio plugs have been changed recently though. They now say "Where data are never lost". Ugh.

Ok, I get it. I took four years of Latin and have been around more than a few math and stat geeks over the years. Datum, data.

Fine. But in the rest of the world, we don't use it that way. The word "data" is used in the same way "money" is: plurality isn't important because we really aren't thinking of either thing as a group of individual units. The only time we treat money or data as units is when we count it; the rest of the time it's a collection where the importance comes from the aggregate. We do a similar, though opposite, thing with "news"; there are individual units of news, but we don't feel any linguistic need to drop the "s".

"Data are never lost" grinds at the back of my brain. I do not like it, and refuse to articulate so clumsily. How about you?


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Thu Jun 7 16:14:18 2007: 3022   rbailin


Data has become a mass noun, like water.

I read last year that those who care about such things have already thrown in the towel on the misuse of "enormity" to mean something huge but not necessarily evil.

Compared to this, using data with singular instead of plural verbs just isn't worth the time to even discuss it.

--Bob



Thu Jun 7 20:01:05 2007: 3025   Cygz


That's the kind of thing that drives me insane. Do they have any idea how it sounds?! Do they think it sounds retarded to them, but they must be stupid, so they do it 'by the book'?! Is it, like so many other changes, something that had to be changed, finally, because so many idiots who never even say the word outloud wrote in complaints? Maybe I'm a little extreme but I always just say people who have to be like that should be put on a rocket bound for the sun.



Sat Jun 9 00:13:48 2007: 3026   anonymous


Lighten up! They're addressing sophistimicated NPR listeners.
99% of the "ads" sound pompous because it appeals to the
target audience.



Sat Jun 9 12:37:06 2007: 3027   TonyLawrence

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False sophistication. Custom trumps declension when a word passes into common usage.



Wed May 4 12:03:10 2011: 9481   TonyLawrence

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Out of curiosity, I checked TechFusion's site just now. The still say "Where Data is Never Lost" on this page (link) but their other pages seem to now prefer "When no one else can" :)

Techfusion: Where data are still is.

:-)



Wed May 4 13:21:15 2011: 9482   Mark

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I have to admit that I had to look up the word "declension". With vocabulary like that Tony - you should consider a career as an NPR ad writer ...



Wed May 4 15:48:07 2011: 9483   BigDumbDinosaur

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My data is never lost. Each byte knows exactly where he are on my disk.



Wed May 4 21:51:49 2011: 9484   TonyLawrence

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Learning Latin requires learning the declension of the vocabulary. Modern English doesn't use much declension.

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