Tag Archives: pedantry

Why I threw in the towel on “data is”

Warning: mostly trivial.

I have several friends who are ready to die on the hill that’s the plurality of “data”.  Writing “the data suggests” or “the data is strong”, for these folks, isn’t just wrong: it’s a crime against the sanctity of the English language, and a grievous insult to right-thinking scholars everywhere.  And for some reason (probably because they know I wrote a book about writing), these particular friends turn to me for backup.  But here’s the thing: once, I was on their side; but I’ve thrown in the towel. Continue reading

A capital dilemma: “western Australia” or “Western Australia”?

Image: Western Australia, © TUBS via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0

 Warning: trivial.

Because no point of writing pedantry is too trivial to catch my eye – and my friends know it – I was asked for advice last week about when to capitalize directional modifiers of place names.  Should one write “western Australia” or “Western Australia”; “northern Ireland” or “Northern Ireland”; or “the northwestern Atlantic” or “the Northwestern Atlantic”?  I know, the Progress of Science and Civilization doesn’t rest on our getting this right, but it’s a question that comes up from time to time, and if you’ve ever been unsure, read on.

I turned to my trusty shelf of writing books to back up my intuition.  Continue reading

XKCD cartoon: "Literally"

Why I’m going back to saying “Latin” names

Image: xkcd #725, by Randall Munroe, CC BY-NC 2.5

Warning: trivial.

If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ve noticed that I frequently return to the fascinating stories behind the scientific, or Latin, names of Earth’s species.  (If you haven’t, you may think using “fascinating” and “Latin names” in the same sentence is a bit much. But I beg to differ.)  But which are they – “scientific names” or “Latin names”? Continue reading

Meme: Inigo Montoya, You keep on using that Latin abbreviation. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Friends don’t let friends use “cf.”

(My writing pet peeves, part 2)

Scientific writing is sprinkled with Latin.  Yes, there are “Latin” (or “scientific”) names of organisms, and those can be unexpectedly fascinating; but that’s not my topic today.  Instead, it’s those little words and phrases, often abbreviated: i.e., e.g., versus, sensu lato. Danger lurks for those who don’t use them carefully – and it lurks in cf. especially, it seems. In fact, the misuse of cf. is high on my list of writing pet peeves. It also carries a broader lesson, which I’ll get to.

So what’s the problem with cf.Continue reading