This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The bouncy bridge: a rant.

There's been a bit of a row about the word data.

Well, there's often a bit of a row about the word data.

Is it singular or plural?

When it was Latin it was definitely plural, but now it's English it's...well, it's either singular or plural, really. If you take really to mean what's being used and understood out there in the world.

Used and understood. That's what matters, isn't it?

One of the things language does is to make bridges between minds (it makes me shiver with wonder just thinking about it).

This means that whatever meaning a word has, it needs to be the same in at least two minds.

If the word is spoken, then it's likely to be not many more than two minds, and in this case it's easy to come to an agreement about the meaning of a word. In the wonderful but ancient TV drama Colditz, for example, the word HONEYMOON meant something extraordinarily awful to one man and his wife, but of course that doesn't mean that anyone else can use the word honeymoon to mean something extraordinarily awful if they wish to be understood.

The more people there are who need to cross the bridge, the more stable it has to be: but there's no point in trying to argue that words mustn't alter; and no point either in trying to argue that words can change all the time in all directions.

The important thing is that the bridge doesn't fall to pieces when someone is half way across.

Word To Use Today: data. This word is the Latin plural of the word datum, which means something given.

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