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News You Don't Say

Monday, already?

So, I gather from the Twitterature that what I missed by skipping the Oscars last night was a crappy sound system and Angelina Jolie showing some leg. Still think your time was well spent on it?

If your preoccupation with the Oscars over the weekend caused you to miss a little fun I had with the Frederick County commissioners over their ordinance making English the official language of the county, you can catch up here. Really, the wealth of asinine legislation in the United States beggars the resources of satire.

I have some catching up to do of my own. Last week Andrew Beaujon, recently installed as surveyor of the news media at the Poynter Institute, called to ask my views on data and media as singulars. I suggested that data is so widely used as a singular, as a mass noun, and datum used so rarely, that there isn't much point in making a fuss (though I personally prefer to keep media as a plural.

He might better have turned to Bryan Garner, the prince of prescriptivists, whose entry on data in the third edition of Garner's Modern American Usage categorized data as a skunked term, one that is likely to draw sneers no matter how you use it. The singular sense has been common, he says, since the 1940s and is now ubiquitous, widely used except in the most formal contexts.

My advice: Strike the colors. This one is not worth a fight.

One term that is a fighting word is elderly. A reader on the Other Coast wrote to me about a 67-year-old man who was beaten to death outside his home in Berkeley and who was referred to as "elderly" in at least three TV news reports, but not in any online articles. (An indication that online journalism is subject to a little more intelligent editing than TV news?) 

Don't call anyone elderly unless you have free time to respond to complaints. The word lacks specificity now that the population lives longer. I am an increasingly creaky sexagenarian, but earlier this month a 75-year-old man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, fought off two carjackers in his driveway. Since elderly carries connotations of enfeebled, you don't want to appear to impute that to anyone. We seniors are a feisty lot.


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