Another one bites the dust?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Sep 6 16:42:01 UTC 2007

On Sep 6, 2007, at 9:03 AM, Gerald Cohen wrote:

> I've often heard "a phenomena" and "a criteria,"  and last night on
> the news someone spoke of "a paparazzi." We deal here with a
> tendency (not a law, though, of course) to shift the plural to the
> singular. I've noticed many more examples over the years, but they
> don't come to mind at the moment.  Maybe it's time to compile them.

from Garner's DMAU (1998: 494):

phenomenon. Pl. phenomena... Several errors occur. First, and perhaps
most commonly, the plural form is increasingly misused as a singular—
e.g.: ... "No_ social phenomena_ [read _phenomenon_] highlights the
change better than the explosive growth of religious cults"...
Chicago Trib.

Second, more strangely, the term _phenomenon_ is sometimes mistakenly
used as a plural—e.g.: "[T ]hese irregularities could explain several
_phenomenon_ [read _phenomena_] in the earth including the well-known
jerkiness in the planet's rotational rate" ... N.Y. Times

i got ca. 333 hits for “several phenomenon” on 2/23/07, mostly in
scientific contexts.

in fact, i believe that all possible patterns (except for the
reversed pattern, sg. phenomena, pl. phenomenon) can be found:

A1.  sg. phenomenon, pl. phenomena

A2.  sg. phenomenon, pl. phenomenon [as above -- zero plural]

A3.  sg. phenomenon, pl. phenomenons [regularization]

B1.  sg. phenomena, pl. phenomena [spread of pl. to sg. -- zero plural]

B2.  sg. phenomena, pl. phenomenas [spread of pl. to sg. plus

if that weren't complicated enough, some people have more than one

and, in my experience, different lexemes don't necessarily show the
same pattern(s); "criterion" doesn't necessarily have the same pattern
(s) as "phenomenon".

a nice topic for further study, but i have to warn you that just
asking people what form they use in particular contexts is probably
not the way to go.


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