Data, the last word: Keep “Data” for data



Marcia Neugebauer's letter (Eos, February 28, p. 129) is yet another reminder that we live in an age of declining literacy. As she correctly observes, the mistaken use of the word “data” for “numerical results” is now widespread, though her suggested solution may be misguided. I see no reason why those who are unable to use language properly should be rewarded with a special word unless it is intended to commemorate ignorance or enshrine slovenly habits o f thought in some novel way. Rather, I urge editors to sustain Neugebauer's preference for the use of existing language to clarify essential distinctions and I urge the rest of us to practice the good sense embodied in Jacque Barzun's essay, “On the Need of an Orderly Mind,” (by Willson Follett, in Modern American Usage, edited by Jacque Barzun, pp. 13–20, Hill and Wang, New York, 1966), or to adopt the trenchant advice of Schopenhauer in his essay “On Style,” in The Works of Schopenhauer, edited by Will Durant, pp. 507–521, Garden City Publishing Co., New York, 1928.