Adversarial uncertainty (2 of 3)

August 16, 2012

There have been two letters from Jennifer Jenkins (26 July and 9 August) in which she has accused Michael Hollas of imagining there is some "golden age" of correct English.

In his letter ("Singularly annoying", 19 July), Hollas neither said nor implied any such thing. He was simply expressing his irritation at people who lazily write "phenomena" and, in his field particularly, "spectra" as singular forms.

Of course, there are no rules in language and so, in principle, anything goes, but you would have to be linguistically semi-conscious not to know that currently the recommended singular in standard English is "phenomenon". So, if you want to write "phenomena" as a singular, go ahead, but you'd better have a damn good reason to. "Couldn't be bothered" is hardly laudable.

Michael Bulley, Chalon-sur-Saône, France

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