Sound and Fury

Signifying nothing

Data as a mass noun

with 3 comments

I was told off yesterday for saying something like “Our data is incomplete…” Now, I know that “data” is a plural (as is media). But I thought it legitimate to use data as a mass noun rather than a count noun. This is, apparently, an “institutionalised mistake”. I’m not so sure. If everyone talks that way, doesn’t that make it OK? That said, I get annoyed when people say “less” when they mean “fewer”, so perhaps I shouldn’t be arguing this point… But in the case of “data”, I don’t see anything wrong with using it as a mass noun. Information, it seems to me, is a continuous mass-like thing. Perhaps the point is that data are still discrete units of information or some such… Anyway, I see nothing wrong with “the media” as a singular. I know that media is the plural of medium, but “the media” or maybe “the Media” is a way of referring to all those associated with any of the diverse media as if they were a homogenous mass. The Media is a thing – it is what feeds you entertainment, celebrity and to a lesser extent information. It does this through various media; the medium of television, the medium of radio and so on…

I am, in general, pedantic and fussy about things like this, but data as a mass noun and media as a singular noun don’t seem to bother me. I don’t really know why. Perhaps I should try and be annoyed about them, for the sake of consistency…


Written by Seamus

March 6, 2009 at 11:14 am

Posted in random

Tagged with , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Heya Seamus! Didn’t know you had a blog. Very interesting. I’ve started my own philosophy one: just need to get some inspiration for my first post!

    Christopher Clarke

    March 19, 2009 at 2:46 pm

  2. Hi Chris. Yes I intermittently post things on this here blog thing. Let me know how your blog goes!


    April 10, 2009 at 9:39 pm

  3. I remember in ancient Greek language you could say a verb in singular for a plural subject, if they are like a mass: TA’ ZOA TRECHEI = the animals runs, for example.
    I am not sure which is better, considering that people change(s) language without thinking about it, and think by language, and I am lazy too. Maybe a gloobish well shared from English would be the best.


    June 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm

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