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Words Jan. 27

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Darren O’Quinn writes: “In Parade magazine, Marilyn the genius (who has the highest recorded IQ in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records) said ‘the data is …’ I thought data was plural and, therefore, the sentence should have read ‘the data are … ’ Is Marilyn playing with us because she knows something we don’t or does the smartest person in the world not know proper grammar?” Marilyn the Genius, eh? Why don’t we call her Marilyn the Dummy, instead? We don’t because that would be rude. Also wrong. Data is indeed the plural of the Latin datum. But, as Random House says: “Today, data is used in English both as a plural noun meaning ‘facts or pieces of information’ (These data are described more fully elsewhere) and as a singular mass noun meaning ‘information’: Not much data is available on flood control in Brazil. It is almost always treated as a plural in scientific and academic writing. In other types of writing it is either singular or plural.” “President Fidel Castro Ruz initially balked, calling the policy discriminatory — until Hurricane Michelle ravished the nation in 2001.” — The Christian Science Monitor Rusty Wyrick of North Little Rock writes: “First of all, usually a hurricane ravages wherever it makes landfall. Secondly, this is unintentionally funny because it is usually the innocent beauty who is ravished. Michelle must have been one hot mama of a hurricane.” Ravage is the word that refers to a powerful force (hurricane, war, tsunami, etc.) spreading destruction over a wide area. Ravish typically has a human subject and object, and means “seize, rape” or, paradoxically, “transport with delight.” Michelle ravaged. And if someone’s wondering about the three names for the Cuban president, Spanish names typically come in threes — a given name, the father’s family name, and the mother’s family name. On second reference, the mother’s name is dropped. We don’t often see Castro given his full three, probably because he became famous simply as “Fidel Castro” at a time when the English-language media weren’t so particular about Spanish names. They take more pains now that the U.S. has a sizeable Latin population of its own.

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