Language grumps

Feel free to ignore this post. I’m a little grumpy–partly because it started raining just as I was on my way to the Wednesday hike (and then stopped after it was too late), just as it did last Wednesday. Strange: I think I only missed a hike once during the proper rainy season because of weather–and here it happens twice in a row in late April, with most other days being beautiful. [These are real hikes--4 to 6 miles, significant vertical in most cases, with hiking sticks. My wife & I also do afternoon walks every day when it's feasible, but that's only 1.25 miles with a couple dozen feet vertical. Those are walks, not hikes.]

Anyhoo… a couple of grumps about language, not that they’ll do any good:

  • The singular of media is medium. TV is a medium, it is not a media. I’m hoping this one isn’t lost just yet…
  • Conversely, unless you’re talking about a psychic convention or a stack of clothes that are neither small nor large, the plural of medium is media, not “mediums.” I’ve seen “mediums” a few times too often lately; I autocorrect it in blogs that I’m citing for C&I, but it’s maddening. When you put TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, the web together, you’re talking about media, not mediums. [Gaah. Looking at Merriam-Webster, I see that advertising folks talk about "media" as singular and "medias" as plural. Gaah. I might buy "media" as a mass noun in certain cases--"the news media"--in which case you could reasonably use the singular. But medias? Really?]
  • The verb that results in something being lost has the same number of os as the condition–it’s lose, not loose. This should not be difficult; I have yet to see anyone assume that “loost” is a correct spelling. I would love to say “loose is not a verb,” but that’s not true, although it’s a fairly quaint verb. On the other hand, when used intransitively, there’s no question: Loose is always a transitive verb. You can lose (“you lose” is a perfectly good sentence) but you can’t loose, you can only loose something.
  • The word for a flashing of light produced by a discharge of atmospheric electricity does not have an e in it. The word is lightning. Yes, lightening (with an e) is a word–but it only applies if a color or burden or something becomes lighter/lessened.

Enough grumpiness for today. I don’t think I’m a stickler for grammar, and I know language changes and believe it should. (I regard “data” as a mass noun taking singular formation except when used in a scientific sense, for example, and I deliberately use “they” as a genderless singular third-person pronoun.) These ones don’t represent changing language, though, I don’t think–just sloppiness.

I won’t even start on less and fewer. I’d like to think there’s still hope for the distinction, but I’m not very confident.

5 Responses to “Language grumps”

  1. Ruth Ellen Says:

    She participated in seances with several spiritual media, attempting to contact her dead husband?

  2. walt Says:

    Ruth: I love it, but in that case my dictionary does give “mediums” as the plural.

  3. Michael Golrick Says:

    If you had a “like” button, I would have hit it!

  4. Seth Finkelstein Says:

    > I won’t even start on less and fewer

    See “Language Log” anti-grump:

    “If it was good enough for King Alfred the Great…”
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:JDPtGgm8yE8J:itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003775.html

  5. walt Says:

    Two responses, Seth:

    1. I did say I won’t even start on that distinction.

    2. I’m unimpressed by citing King Alfred the Great; in his time, spelling was pretty much “as you wish” as well. On the other hand, the article was interesting… (my own take: There are times when, for distinctly countable items–like apples and dollars, *not so much* like minutes and hours–“less” just feels wrong to me. It’s a feeling, not a Strict Grammatical Rule.)


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