or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, June 12, 2006

Pointing a Finger

In today's Salon.com there's a piece about an ongoing debate on whether the 2004 election was literally stolen from John Kerry by fraud and malfeasance. It's an interesting article and I'm convinced. It contains, unfortunately, this sentence:

In the book, we treat the exit poll discrepancy as, in the words of Rep. John Conyers, "but one indicia or warning that something may have gone wrong -- either with the polling or with the election."

Now, you don't have to be fluent in Latin to instantly know by looking that "indicia" must be a plural noun. After all, every noun in English you can think of that ends in "-ia" is plural: "gymnasia", "bacteria", "millennia", and so on and so on. (Yes, "media" is being used increasingly as a singular noun, but that's not the word's fault. It ought to be plural.)

"Indicia" is, in fact, a plural noun: it's the plural of "indicium", which is from "index", a very common English word with exactly the same meaning in English as it had in Latin: "indicator", whether it's a finger, a list in the back of a book, or a stock-market number. "Indicia" just means "marks of identification or indication".

So what Mr. Conyers meant to say wasn't "indicia", but, barring the uncommon "indicium", "index", which would have been not only direct, clear, and simple, but correct. "Indicia" is a mistake born of (surely unconscious) pretentiousness.


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