Posted on 28 July 2020

Data - singular or plural?

A recent poll in the UK found that 74% of respondents treat the word ‘data’ as a singular collective nouns, compared to 14% that treat it as plural. The results of this poll were published on Twitter and sparked some mild outrage about the degradation of the English language. The word data comes to us from classical Latin as a count noun, where data is the plural form used to refer to stats or other information collected for analysis or reference, and datum the singular form to refer to a specific stat or piece of information.  These data show that on their assumptions, our debt to national income ratio rises from one-third to one-half–HERALD, 1990 It's dynamic: every time a datum changes, so changes the intelligence senior managers see–THE AUSTRALIAN, 1999 Our research into the usage of this humble word in our more modern times has found that the connection between data the plural and datum the singular has been almost completely broken. While datum survives in such compounds as datum point, it does not have the frequency of use that data has. Data is regularly used as a singular collective noun* in contexts like the data has proved difficult to process.  Google Trends shows us an overall decline in usage of datum since 2004, which is as far back as Trends can go. And for a bit of fun, we also ran our own informal office poll. There was a clear and definite winner with 100% of the votes going to…. data as a singular mass noun. Some language ‘purists’ may see this move towards data as a singular to be a blight on our language and thus petition for ‘correct usage’ to be upheld. It is not the dictionary’s role, however, to say what is correct or incorrect, but to record these changes as they happen. So, while some people may continue to be staunchly resistant to this change, I’m afraid it is already a losing battle. The data IS clear: language is ever evolving and poor datum has been falling out of fashion for some time. *Visit the Grammar Guide for more information about mass nouns, count nouns and collective nouns.
Posted on 1 July 2020

Seven new words from 'travel bubble' to 'finsta'

Welcome to our new words blog, where we share new and topical words, some of which were submitted by you via the suggest a word feature on our website. This month, the stars are our destination with astrotourism: trips taken to stargaze or seek out dark sky locations, of which there are plenty in Australia. Back down on earth we are having an ugly-cry over our fakeaway dinners, the homemade version of your favourite takeaway food.  In the digital world we are seeing usage of the word finsta: a private Instagram account created to share content with close friends in a less public manner than a standard account.  You may have heard a lot of discussion about travel bubbles, which is an agreement between nations to form a closed circle of tourism post COVID-19. Race lift, to change the race of a character in an adaptation, is another word relevant to our current social climate.  Gruntle, the opposite of disgruntled, is our final new word for July. This isn't the first time that gruntle has appeared on the Macquarie blog. As with all new words, our editors are monitoring gruntle for more widespread usage that would earn the word a coveted place in the Macquarie Dictionary.  Let us know if you have any other suggestions. We are always happy to hear new words, no matter how big or small a usage they may have. Be sure to vote for some of these when we post them on our Instagram stories. See other words suggested to the Macquarie Dictionary here.  
Posted on 25 June 2020

Alot of poking the bear

Here at the Macquarie Dictionary, we receive (and welcome) messages from everyone about new words, changes to definitions and grammar and spelling bugbears. Many of these are addressed in our definitions already, but sometimes we like to delve into the more complicated queries. We were already aware of Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, but recently, we've fielded some queries about something that she wrote about at great length, the difference between a lot and alot. Before we get into this, please remember that in Australian English there are different registers of language. And that language constantly shifts and evolves. Now take a deep breath and let's begin! The phrase a lot is well established in Australian English. We use it to mean a number of things. 
  1. to a considerable degree; much: that’s a lot better.
  2. a great many or a great deal: a lot of books.
  3. many times: to do it a lot.
  However, for a while now, we've been noticing this phrase being written as one word, making some people a little confused and others positively apoplectic.    alot  (in non-standard use)
  1. to a considerable degree; much: that’s alot worse.
  2. a great many or a great deal: alot of people are going to complain.
  3. many times: to complain alot. 
The form alot does have a place in the dictionary but it also comes with a note cautioning that it is not generally accepted as standard usage. It is the role of a dictionary to monitor, not just new emerging terms and senses, but how the form of language can change. Word compounds often start as separate units. Over time we often see a shift to hyphenation or even a shift to a solid form. For example, electronic mail > E-mail > e-mail > email. The adverb anyhow was formerly any how, and although the adjective alright has been a disputed usage for all right, it is increasingly common in published writing. The form alot is a result of compounding, following the pattern of words such as anyhow and alright and many, many others.  As to whether it will become an established standard form 10, 50 or 100 years down the track, who knows, but one thing's for sure, we'll be seeing alot more of it now. (Image courtesy of Allie Brosh: Hyperbole and a Half)