The best way to frustrate a studying Steve

When I study I like to read things which make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, sometimes things are written which don’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps this is because the writer is being deliberately obtuse and magniloquent with their language or they wish to confuse. A surprising amount of people wish to confuse.

But there is one thing I can’t stand, and it annoys me that I can’t stand it because it is correct. It is using the word ‘data’ correctly. Let me explain.

Often we will talk about ‘the data’ or ‘this data’ and we often see it as a singular construct. The data is one and whole, it is not made up of tiny little pieces of data. But that’s wrong. A single piece of data is called a datum and data is the plural of datum (a better word than datums I reckon), so whenever someone is being correct with their usage of the word data, they will put it into the plural.

This is prevalent in the world of academic writing which strives to be correct. I’ll give you an example which made me want to hurl:

“These data have limitations.”

It’s a short sentence, very to the point, but it needlessly infuriates. If you disagree, just think about it, would you really say that to someone else?! Really?! The likelihood is that you would say:

This data has limitations.”

And here it is, the most painful thing of all, the second version is wrong. Oh so wrong.

So what does an English pedant do when they need to write up their dissertation? Do they succumb to the pressure of their psyche and the academic world? Yes. Probably.

But I’ll do it with anger in my fingers and hope the English Language professors will one day allow us to use data as a singular in our writing.

Who’s even heard of a datum?!?!

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