or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, May 21, 2005


As I was leaving work yesterday I glanced through the window of one of those payday-loan places that extract vigorish when there's too much month at the end of the paycheck, and a large sign inside read:

What Is The Payday Now Criteria?

It's no surprise to any alert English speaker that Latinate plurals are dying out. Some of them, such as "aquaria" and "gymnasia", are vanishing from the language, replaced through the standard English method of pluralizing by "aquariums" and "gymnasiums". I wish it were otherwise, but I can't really complain about this simplification, which is natural. Other Latin words have the singular and plural conflated, so that "media" and "data", among others, are being treated as singular nouns. (I'm sick of "The media is..." and "The data tells us...", but they're here to stay. I don't have to like them, though. I hear singular "media" all the time on The Majority Report and it's maddening; Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder are smart people, and they ought to know better.) Even innocent "bacteria" is being increasingly treated as a singular noun. ("What about 'cafeteria'?" someone asked me once, and the answer is that there never was a "cafeterium" for which "cafeteria" might be plural--the word's from Spanish, not Latin, and in Spanish, "-eria" serves the same purpose as the French "-erie" as in "confiserie" and English "-ery" as in "bakery".)

The odd thing about the sign is that "criteria" is, in fact, clearly meant to be plural; there's more than one rule you have to follow if you want to get a loan from these people. It's the verb that's at fault here, not the noun: the sign-writers obviously meant to say "What Are The Payday Now Criteria?"

However, the larger issue remains: "criteria" is increasingly being used singularly, but "criterion" still exists as a singular noun in English, and it's not as if it's an uncommon word or anything, so everyone who uses "criteria" as a singular noun: I want you to knock it off right now. Thank you.


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