Advanced Business Writing
Rules and Usage

Latin Rules

Once upon a time, Angry Man chiseled on a stone tablet:

I. Don't split infinitives.

II. Don't end a sentence with a preposition.

III. Don't begin a sentence with a conjunction.

That man was much more interested in being obeyed than he was interested in helping people to write clearly. Ignore him. Unfortunately, if your boss agrees with his whiney chiselings you may have to tolerate him (sorry).

But wait—there's more! Angry Man couldn't help himself; he had more to chisel:

IV. When we borrow from Latin, we shall obey Latin.

He is wrong. Ancient Latin is not the absolute boss of modern you.

Angry Man would prefer you write this:

The data are presented in the appendix. One measurement was an outlier; that datum is suspect.

But accepted usage allows you to write this:

The data is presented in the appendix. One measurement was an outlier; that data point is suspect.

There are two things going on here:

(1) The word data is now commonly accepted as a mass noun. Mass nouns name things that, in English, cannot be counted. Examples are: advice, luck, and work. They are used only in the singular.

(2) Most English speakers think the word datum sounds ridiculous.

Similarly, media, plural for medium (means of mass communication), has recently become a mass noun, and is often used in the singular form:

The media (when referring to the industry) is good at entertaining us, but the media (when referring to the companies in the industry) are having a field day reporting on this story.

Note: Never write a media or the medias.

Let's get back to Angry Man. He would prefer you write this:

• He is an alumnus.
• She is an alumna.
• Those men are alumni.
• Those women are alumnae.
• Those men and women are alumni.

But accepted usage allows you to write this:

• He is an alumni.
• She is an alumni.
• They are alumni.

This makes Angry Man laugh at the irony of educated people (university alumni and alumnae) forsaking specificity in vocabulary for the lazy convenience of using alumni for everything. But we know what we're talking about when we use the word. It's a simplification we can live with.

And informal usage allows you to write this:

• He is an alum.
• She is an alum.
• They are alums.

This tends to turn Angry Man into Livid Man. But it works, so we use it.

Singulari et Pluralis

Latin nouns absorbed by the general population tend to have a simple s added to make them plural. Academic folk, who wax nostalgic at the pleasing cadence of ending inflections (casa, casae, casae), should be forgiven their personal peccadillos.

Here are some common examples:

formula (singular) - formulas, formulae (plural)

antenna (singular) - antennas, antennae (plural)

In general:

Practical people use formulas.
Intellectual people use formulae.

Engineers design the antennas of radios.
Scientists study the antennae of insects.

We do agree with Angry Man about some Latin plurals. For example, even though we use radius and radiuses we do not use stimulus and stimuluses. We use stimuli. English speakers think stimuluses sounds ridiculous.

Angry Man demands we also follow the rules for singulars and plurals when we use words of Greek origin. For example, phenomenon is singular and phenomena is plural. The only problem is that phenomena has been used as a singular for more than three centuries. What to do? Play it safe: use phenomenon as a singular noun and phenomena as a plural noun. Try to relax about people who use phenomena as a singular noun. And don't ever write phenomenas; that sounds silly.

The story is a bit different for the singular criterion and the plural criteria. Misusing criteria as a singular is a relatively new phenomenon. So, at this time, accept Angry Man's dictum to use criteria in the plural form only.

Lesson: Latin Rules
Module: Rules and Usage
Course: Advanced Business Writing