I often hear people talk about a phenomenon, which refers to one thing or situation, when they need the plural of phenomenon—which is phenomena, referring to more than one thing or situation.
• Global warming is a potentially disastrous phenomenon.
• The phenomena that contribute to global warming are being studied extensively in hopes of avoiding worldwide catastrophes.
Another pair often misused are criteria (plural) and criterion (singular). If you have only one standard that must be met, you want criterion.
But here’s one you can stop worrying about: datum. That’s the singular of data. Today, data is used for both singular and plural. Why? Because common usage changes all languages. However, if you are using data as a plural, make your verb plural also:
• The scientific data are unequivocal that ocean temperatures are rising rapidly.
You might not believe me, but this method works:
• Set up a folder and label it Writing. Keep the folder on your desktop where you can find it.
• Every day, write one page on any topic you wish. Just one page. No more (but no less). It’s OK to double space.
• Put each page of your writing in the designated folder.
• Do this daily for one month. It may be best to begin on the first of the month, but you can start at any time.
• Do not read pages you’ve previously written. Not yet.
• At the end of the month, after your last entry, go back to the beginning and read your entries in order, from oldest to most recent. You will see improvement. I hope to hear from you about your success!
Not being a techie, I tried everything I knew to make this a clickable link. Obviously, I failed. Copy and paste this into your browser and enjoy your new vocabulary:
© Judi Birnberg
In Just My Typo, edited by Drummond Moir (gotta love his name), he cites a 19th century example of carelessness:
A New Orleans cotton broker sent a telegraph to New York, asking if he should buy cotton at the current prices. He received an answer of “No price too high.” Naturally, he bought as much as he could, only to discover that the answer should have been punctuated as follows: “No. Price too high.”
One tiny dot on paper can make a world of difference.
Will she be discreet?
These two words are pronounced identically and are commonly mistaken for each other.
DISCREET means circumspect, prudent, careful. If you are discreet, you will avoid gossiping or criticizing others. You try to avoid embarrassing others. Roger promised he would be discreet after his best friend told him he was thinking of divorcing his fourth wife.
DISCRETE means singular, unconnected, separate. Academy Awards are given in multiple discrete categories.
Some people are so clever. Enjoy these. Again, my thanks to Nicki N.
“In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.”
—Charles, Count Talleyrand
“He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” —Forrest Tucker
“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?”
“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” —Mae West
“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”
“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.” —Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
“He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” —Billy Wilder
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But I’m afraid this wasn’t it.”
One of my favorite programs is “The Great British Baking Show.” In an early season, a show photographer caught this image of a squirrel on the grounds where the program is shot. (The contestants often use nuts in their recipes, and this photo does indicate a squirrel that is definitely well hung. But I digress.)
My husband and I hung some of my paintings today. Since everything I do makes me think of language, of course I thought of the difference between hanged and hung, two words that are frequently used interchangeably and incorrectly. I originally wrote this post over four years ago, without the squirrel, so I thought I’d do a rerun. Here’s the scoop:
HANGED is used for executions or suicide: “The criminal was hanged.” Sometimes you see “hanged to death” along with “strangled to death” and “starved to death.” Those are all redundancies. If you’re hanged, strangled or starved, you are dead.
HUNG is used for decor: “Angela hung the picture of the well hung model on her bedroom wall.”