Language Matters

English plurals can be puzzling. The plural of goose is geese, but a snake needs to be on the lookout for mongooses. The plural of fish is fish, unless you’re speaking about different species of fish, in which case fishes is also correct.

And/or is a common term in written English, particularly in legal, technical and journalistic texts. It is also widely criticized: the Chicago Manuel of Style warns writers to “Avoid this Janus-faced term.” Meanwhile, it has been described in courts of law as a “grammatical monstrosity”, a “bastard conjunction”, and worse. So why is and/or so controversial? And how did the term come about in the first place?

Words like talented and glossy-paged represent a curious feature of English: adjectives that seemingly take the past participle verbal ending -ed, but that do not derive from verbs. Why can you say talented when there is no lexicalized verb to talent? Why does a glossy-paged book sound natural but a paged book, a concreted wall or a five-houred drive sound strange? 

Although Latin is a dead language, it has a funny way of coming back to haunt us from beyond the grave. Complex declensions and deponent verbs aside, aspects of Latin grammar and vocabulary continue to affect the English language today. One such linguistic haunting is the question of whether the Latin-derived word data should be treated as a plural or a singular. So which is it, data is or data are?

Hanukkah is widely known across the English-speaking world as an important Jewish holiday. How do you spell it?

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