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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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2011-05-04 Anthony Lawrence