First agendum on the agenda

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So I had been working on a long think piece about the nature of race and the debate surrounding identity politics in the US… but then I had my first ever copy of The New York Times delivered to my apartment and I was forced to confront another shocking issue.

The New York Times had clearly made an error in what I am learning to call an A1 headline. As my readers will be well aware, the word “data” is a plural. So data suggest, datum suggests etc.

But not so fast. It may be even worse than that. I was immediately pointed in the direction of the Guardian style guide, which makes the following bold claim:

data – takes a singular verb (like agenda), though strictly a plural; no one ever uses “agendum” or “datum”

Speak for yourself. Simon Heffer and I know our Latin, and can tell our paparazzo from our paparazzi. In his Telegraph style guide, he rules thus:

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The Guardian sets out its position in a blog post, which argues that we should change our rules based on usage:

Data as a plural term may be the proper usage but language evolves and we want to write in terms that everyone understands – and that don’t seem ridiculous.

Which leads me to the frightening conclusion that what I witnessed on the front page of The New York Times was not an oversight, but part of a deliberate policy. (I don’t think its style guide – or would it want me to write “their style guide” – is online.)

It is mistaken.


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