Singularly plural

Find the blunders in this sentence, from a piece I recently edited:

The fiscal year that ended in June 2017 — the most recent for which data is available — shows an increase in homicide….

Easily done. The writer is apparently unaware that data is a plural noun. So the sentence should read, “The fiscal year that ended in June 2017– the most recent for which data are available shows an increase in homicide. (“shows” remains singular because it’s the year that is showing, not the many data.)

How about this oft-repeated canard: “The media is biased against my administration.” Aside from being factually incorrect — news outlets, being large corporations, kowtow to this President just as they always have to every other — but also, like “data,” “media” is a plural noun. So the sentence should read “The media are biased….”

I don’t want to hear any, “we speak English in this country, not Latin,” or, “Hey old man, the language changes.” Making singulars out of plural is above your pay grade as a writer. It’s your job to deploy the language, not advance it along some imaginary evolutionary curve at your own discretion.

Remember, too, young readers, that when you sit to craft a story proposal or a cover letter, you’re probably writing for a grownup who will care about this stuff. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the language of your peers with your peers, just that you must think of proper grown-up English as another language, neither better nor worse than your own, in which you should develop fluency. If you were writing to a Russian, you’d try to write in Russian. If you were writing to an Indonesian, you’d try to write in Bahasa. Same principle; if you’re writing or speaking to a grownup, write and speak in grownup. As Charlemagne famously said, “To have another language is to have another soul.” If you’re early in your career, it wouldn’t hurt to develop the soul and language of a grownup.

 

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