xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Yes, I follow the crowd, and so do you | COMMENTARY

A former colleague and I got into an exchange over the word media, which he insists is properly a plural. He was not happy to hear me say that he is fighting not merely a losing battle but a lost battle. “Do you always follow the crowd?” he asked.

Yeah. Pretty much. We all follow the crowd, whom Mencken called “the plain people,” because the crowd, collectively, over time, decides what usage is, what the language is.

Advertisement

I tried for years to argue that the media are not a unified mass but a conglomeration of medium after medium with different conventions, standards, and audiences. Waste of breath. The crowd gets its way, and even prescriptivists must eventually come to terms with reality.

Garner’s Modern English Usage observes that “media—as a shortened form of communications media—is increasingly used as a mass noun … especially in a collocation such as social media. … While that usage still makes some squeamish, it must be accepted as standard. In modern print sources, the phrasing the media is is somewhat more prevalent than the media are.”

Advertisement

The crowd is the reason that ain’t persists in common usage despite the efforts of generations of well-meaning but badly informed schoolteachers to extirpate it, and that they remains an epicene singular third-person pronoun, thwarting nineteenth- and twentieth-century attempts to tidy the language.

The crowd is the reason I’ve grown suspicious of people who talk about “correct” English. (Well, first, just look at them.) Much of what gets called “correct” English is more properly a set of conventions, or even fashions.

There is, of course, incorrect English. You get it from toddlers experimenting with how the language works. You get it from people who are not native speakers and therefore have to learn the order of adjectives (“No, we say, ‘the big red truck,’ not ‘the red big truck’ ”) and which prepositions go with which words.

But that’s not the kind of error the correctitude people are talking about. The are talking about something outside the range of standard written English that they don’t much like or some novel usage within standard English that wasn’t there when they were in puberty.

No worries. If the crowd finds it useful, it will stay and become standard. If the crowd does not find it useful over the long term, it will fade into disuse. It’s up to you, as part of the collective, to decide to use it or not. And it’s up to me, the editor, to determine where on the continuum a usage falls—but that is more a matter of taste and judgment than a matter of correctness, of what fits the writer, the subject, the occasion, the publication, the audience.

I’ve never cared much for media as a singular myself, but you go to work with the language you have, not the language you wish you had. 

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement