Word Pair of the Month: data, datum
Data is the plural form of datum, and it is still used as a plural noun in some formal writing to denote multiple pieces of information—measurements, statistics, and so on: These data are extensive and will take months to process. However, especially in informal writing, data is predominantly used as a singular noun to denote one collection of facts or body of information: The old data is worthless in this context.
February Writer’s Forum Question
This month we talked about job descriptions, either as a “help wanted” ad or an employee information packet. Share with us something you wish you had known beforehand—something that was missing from a job ad you followed up on. Or, share something you do in your job that does not appear in its description.
Especially in today’s economy, when we’re grateful just to have a job, we seem to do a lot of little things that aren’t in our job descriptions, and most of our respondents commented that they usually don’t mind doing extra. A few of our readers said that no matter how thorough an ad, there will always be a few unmentioned requests or duties in any job.
Geoff Prescott of Houston responds:
Did the ad say I’d have to clean the office kitchen? It did not, but everybody cleans, from the bosses to the interns, so it’s okay. I’ll take my turn. It actually makes the place seem a little more homey and teamlike by giving us all a mutual gripe.
Nedra Patla wrote something similar, and added some sage advice.
Yes, when I started the job I was surprised to learn that I was expected to take on planning the occasional office social activity. But you know, even my boss took her turn, so you go along. If you are spending a third of your life in a job, you should try to be a part of the group around you, and do what it takes to fit in. Otherwise, it can get pretty cold and lonely, and the workday seems that much longer.
Sometimes it can get a little weird, as told by Abbi Denton, a student intern in Teaneck, New Jersey. She writes:
I really love my job—I am doing a college internship with a writer in her home, a beautiful old house, and it's a very informal atmosphere—just the writer, her assistant, and me. The weird thing I do that’s not in my job description is walking her dogs! Morning and afternoon, right on schedule, I have to take her two standard poodles out for a quick run in the park across the street. I don’t really mind it—the fresh air is good for me, too—but I often ask myself, “Is this really professional?” Still, it’s an interesting job, I’m learning a lot, and I hope to get a good reference from her, so it’s off to the park!
Finally, we heard from Jason Koppa about a disappointing job ad.
The ad was hazy about benefits, and I wish I’d known more about them before I interviewed. They weren’t clearly spelled out at the first meeting, either, and it wasn’t until my second interview that I learned how really unacceptable (and nonnegotiable) they were. I turned down the job, and it was all a major waste of my time.
A Final Thought
Listen when you speak. Chances are, you use correct grammar most of the time. (If you don’t, listen doubly hard and correct it!) Your ear is a good judge of what’s right and wrong. The same holds true when you write. So listen when you write, as well: Read your writing out loud, and listen to it. Many times your ear will catch an error that your eye will miss.