Singularly annoying

July 19, 2012

Regarding "After 'fightback', Classics will no longer be all Greek to urban youth" (News, 5 July). It reminded me of my continual irritation at the neglect of the singular nouns "phenomenon" and "criterion" in favour of the common use of "phenomena" and "criteria" when the singular is meant.

This applies also to the use of "media" as a singular noun. The BBC, which really should know better, recently stated that "all the media is in Cairo". I doubt if many would refer these days to the "medium of television".

I am a retired research spectroscopist and am increasingly concerned about the use of "spectra" instead of "spectrum" as a singular noun, as in "this spectra of hydrogen".

I suppose the teaching of classical languages will always be a minority pursuit in schools, but at least room should be found in the teaching of English to draw attention to such examples of incorrect usage.

And while we are at it, please can we all stop using "off of" (as in "falling off of the back of a lorry") when only "off" is needed? When I was young, we would laugh at anyone using "off of", but who is laughing now? I hope English teachers can, in addition to teaching some necessary aspects of classical languages, help to stamp out this awful habit.

Michael Hollas, Henley-on-Thames

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