Collective Nouns and Plurals and “Data” – Oh My!

(Blogging using a phone while on a moving bus can be challenging. The first version of this post was gibberish.)

Who decided that collective nouns should be treated as singular in context by Americans and as plural by the English? To illustrate, an American would say “The army is invading,” while a Brit would choose “The army are invading.” This is a perfectly ordinary discrepancy in language like leaving out extra vowels in the spelling of “color.” I think these sorts of differences came about when communication between Americans and real English speakers came with months of delay because a sea voyage was needed to carry people or letters between the two pools of usage. That’s a natural quirk in language as a result of its history.

But I’m here to talk about this because it is also schizophrenic in some cases.

Take the noun “data” for instance. Is it plural? Most people use it as a collective noun, so it’s singular in context but it refers to a number of data items. But stuffy old Scientific American, for example, uses “data” as if they were British: they say things like “The data show” rather than “The data shows.”

What do UKians do with this word? I think they use it like Americans for some reason!

Language is weird. Naturally.