One phenomenon, two phenomena

2 Apr
It’s amazing what you can find out about the things that drive you batty when you look a little closer.  For example, today on the radio, I heard an interviewee say that something was a "fascinating phenomena", which made me want to shout "phenomenon, you stupid git!"  So I looked it up.  To my surprise, one can actually legitimately use phenomena as a singular, at least if its occasional use as such for the past 400 years is reason enough to make it legitimate.  Here’s the Merriam-Webster entry.
Main Entry: phe·nom·e·na
Pronunciation: fi-'nä-m&-n&, -"nä
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -nas
nonstandard : PHENOMENON
usage Phenomena has been in occasional use as a singular for more than 400 years and its plural phenomenas for more than 350. Our evidence shows that it is primarily a speech form used by poets, critics, and professors, among others, but one that sometimes turns up in edited prose <the Borgia were, in modern terms, a media phenomenaEconomist>. It is etymologically no more irregular than stamina, agenda, and candelabra, but it has nowhere near the frequency of use that they have, and while they are standard, phenomena is still rather borderline.
So I guess I’ll have to stop worrying about this one.
However, another word that drives me batty when the plural is incorrectly used is alumnus.  I often see someone refer to him or herself as "an alumni of Institution X", which tells me that that person must suffer from dissociative identity disorder
Thank God I still have something to be pedantic about.

4 Responses to “One phenomenon, two phenomena”

  1. Peter April 2, 2007 at 5:27 pm #

    Keep up the good work, psycho.

  2. Peter April 2, 2007 at 6:42 pm #

    Hi. Chelle here.
    Have you discovered the "Grammar Girl" podcast? If you have itunes, you can download them for free from the itunes store.
    They\’re very informative, some are funny and , most importantly, they\’re right down your alley. I\’ve actually burned a few episodes onto CD and made my class listen to them!

  3. Fawn April 2, 2007 at 11:49 pm #

    Psycho?  Psycho?!  Oof, that\’s harsh.
    Did you notice that I misspelled "its" in this posting?  Phew!  I\’ve corrected that now, anyway.  😛

  4. Nemmy April 4, 2007 at 4:47 am #

    Not form much longer… I bet alumnus becomes the new alumni (she says darkly… I\’ve been reading Harry Potter lately…)

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