English language confusion

The technology books I’ve written go through a couple of edits, first by someone knowledgeable in the subject area and then by a copy editor. The copy editor will fix misspellings, awkward sentence structure, and grammar. The occasional modification alters the meaning of a sentence, but overall, I’m happy with the updates.

I’ve worked on so many books that the changes by the copy editors are minimal at this point as I’ve learned what types of issues they fix. I was stunned, however, when every instance of “data is” was changed to “data are” in the first edition of my window function book in 2014. I honestly had never heard that the word data was plural or datum, the singular form of the word. There is still quite a debate to be found online, but the consensus seems to be that science articles use data as a plural noun, but use as a singular, collective noun is acceptable.

The English language does evolve over time. We don’t speak like a Shakespearean play or even as people did 100 years ago. Language also ends up different throughout the world or even within a country. For example, in the US, there have been many words to describe a sweet, fizzy drink depending on geography and time: pop, soda, sody pop, tonic, or coke (not necessarily the brand Coke). 

Rules can change, but how do we know when it’s happening? Take the use of “I” vs. “me.” People are in the habit of using “I” after the word “and” regardless of where it ends up in a sentence. You could say “John and I are going to the movies” and be correct since “I” is part of the subject, but “Buy the popcorn for John and I” is wrong because it’s part of the object. The use of “I” after the word “and” in the object of the sentence is so common that I wonder if the rule is changing. It’s easy to use the wrong word when speaking, but I’d expect articles, books, and movies to get it right, which is no longer the case. Now it doesn’t look right to me in the rare situation when I see it used correctly.

Using the correct word is difficult, but spelling in English is even more challenging. Without the electronic tools available today, I would need to carry a heavy dictionary around with me. I’ve never been great at spelling because it requires so much memorization. I’d much rather figure things out than memorize, but there is no figuring out when spelling English words.

The English language frequently doesn’t make sense, so I enjoy writing T-SQL and other programming and scripting languages with dependable features and rules.

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