Yes, we’re a college town, but let’s consider ‘media’ and ‘data’ to be singular

grammarThe title of Betsey Buckheit’s blog post last week, Social media are not new, immediately got my attention, as much for its grammar as its subject matter.

I’ve always found the plural usage of ‘media’ and ‘data’ to be awkward, less colloquial.

Can we bow to the social trend?

6 thoughts on “Yes, we’re a college town, but let’s consider ‘media’ and ‘data’ to be singular”

  1. No, I can’t, Griff. There are multiple social media and it is useful to be able to grammatically distinguish one medium (Facebook, say) from another (like Twitter). Social media, mass media, or visual arts media are all quite clearly collective.

    ‘Data’ is (that’s mentioning the term not using it) not treated quite the same way. We rarely speak of a datum and never use datums for the plural. ‘Data points’ or ‘data bits’ (or other phrase) seem to be the way we distinguish one datum fron another.

  2. I believe our Language is more fluid than the strict construction of singular or plural in this case.
    In a 1980 very large Random House Dictionary, it notes that “data”, although strictly defined as a plural, it is both widely used and understood correctly when used as a singular.

    Although not noted as such in that dictionary, I believe the same holds true with the use and understanding of the word “media”.

    Then of course there is the problem of what appears to be wrong, or just feels awkward, with the accompanying verb form used; i.e., “media” , which can be understood as a group, and then sounds right when used with the singular verb, i.e., “the media is”…
    To my ear “the media is” sounds better than “the media are”…

    N’est ce pas?

  3. I agree with Griff. Especially “social media” which is a modern catch phrase, the pluralization of certain Latin words should be fluid. Don’t get me wrong, I was a Latin geek in both high school and college, but sometimes linguistics needs to conform to society; otherwise we would still have 5 cases and countless verb forms! Currently in German, a noun case is dying out. Languages change; that’s what makes the study of linguistics so interesting.

    That said, I believe that “social media are” is very awkward, and if there is a necessity of specifying plural (which IMO there is not in the case of a title), it should be “social media platforms.” We don’t call Facebook a “Social Medium,” so why do we NEED to treat “media” as plural? Same goes with “datum,” etc.

  4. I agree with Betsey and Griff and Alicia. It’s your language. Use it as you see fit. In general, I treat “media” as a plural, and “data” as a singular. But I’m inconsistent. I do whatever sounds right in the context. That’s what keeps language alive and evolving.

    I do believe that “media” and “data” are in an ambiguous category of collective nouns, like “audience” or “team” or “family.” Betsey, who has spent time in Britain, is probably used to hearing things like, “The audience are on their feet…” or “The team are taking the field…” In America, we treat those collective nouns as singular (“The team is taking the field…”).

    These differences are fun to notice, but in the end, do they really matter? Betsey says things that are worth listening to, and so does Griff. Despite a few interesting differences, we speak the same language. The important thing is to listen to what is said.

  5. Also, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that in Greek, neuter plural nouns are regularly treated as singulars. This also happens in Latin, though not as consistently as in Greek. “Data” and “media” are Latin neuter plurals. So, as a Latinist, I conclude that these nouns can be treated as either singular or plural. Once again, everyone is right.

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