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I know that there's no any shortage of controversy about "data" and "datum", but I've recently questioned the validity in the specific case of "I am but a point of data". Is this, under the strict definition of datum and data, grammatically correct, or is "I am but a point of datum" technically better?

I'm torn, because while the former sounds more correct from sheer popularity, in the seemingly analogous case "I am but a piece of pie", "pie" remains singular.

Additionally, if these cases are indeed analogous, shouldn't "We are but points of data" be corrected to "We are but points of datum"? Returning to the analogy: while "We are but pieces of pies" is grammatically valid, it implies something different than: "We are but pieces of pie" which feels closer to the singular.

  • "Data" is a lost cause. Only in very technical situations do you use "datum". And you only wince a little when someone says "datas". – Hot Licks Nov 18 '14 at 2:22
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In the phrase "I am but a piece of pie", pie is being treated as a mass noun, as if it is the name of an uncountable substance - in the same way as "...a pile of sand" or "...a bucket of water".

If you were using a countable noun, however, the analogous phrase uses the plural form of the noun: "I am but a pile of peas" or "...a basketful of kittens".

As you alluded to in your question, "data" is strictly the plural form of "datum", but is also often used as a mass noun in its form "data".

If it's a mass noun, then by analogy with the "pie" example, you would use "data".

And if it's treated as lots of individual items, each of which is a "datum", then as with "peas" or "kittens" we use the plural: "data".

In fact, in your case of "a point of data", the word is clearly being used as a mass noun, because "a point of data" is effectively the same thing as "a datum".

Note also that if we have enough pie we may switch to using it as a plural: "I am but a tower of pies" or "Who ate all the pies?"

TL;DR: "data" is a mass noun in this case so you should use "data" rather than "datum".

  • Is there actually an answer somewhere in there? – JenSCDC Nov 17 '14 at 19:23
  • Oh, interesting... is there a particular reason why "data" is the mass noun for datum/data, but all of the cases I've seen of nouns where both the singular and plural make sense (food/foods, grass/grasses, blood/bloods), the mass noun takes the form of the singular (5 types of food, 2 species of grass, 5 spatters of blood)? – concat Nov 17 '14 at 19:32
  • Added a tldr... – IanF1 Nov 17 '14 at 19:32
  • @concat: purely because it's been (mis)used in the mass-noun sense for so long that it's become accepted usage. – IanF1 Nov 17 '14 at 19:34
  • Additionally, it seems as though "pile of peas" and "basketful of kittens" are groups of multiple things, so the pluralization of "pea" and "kitten" make sense. I agree that "group of data" is correct, but each "point" is matched to a single "datum". Isn't "points of [data/datum]" analogous to "species of pea"? – concat Nov 17 '14 at 19:42
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The only phrasing that I've ever heard "is "data point" and it's my job to work with data. Even that phrase is extremely rate; the commonly used terms are "observation" and "record".

Back to your question: "point of datum" is a redundancy, because a datum is a synonym for a data point, so "I am but a point of data" is the correct phrase.

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Here's a point (ahem) to consider: A point is not always defined by multiple datum such as the values of two or more axes.

"One datum point on the number line had a value of five."

"One data point on the graph represented the coordinates [2,4]."

Does the point represent one or more datum?

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