Pedants are we?

In the good old days there was a word ‘medium’ which had the plural ‘media’. Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message’ is an example of that usage. We talked about the media, by which we meant TV, newspapers and magazines, music CDs and video. Then along came Facebook and Twitter which are more recent examples of media. So far so good – but now people say ‘ Social media is very influential’. Should we just shrug our shoulders and put it down to the evolution of the English language?

And have criteria gone the same way? In the grammatically correct past you talked about one criterion and two criteria. But, just like media, criteria seems to have become a singular noun e.g. the criteria for being accepted is very challenging.

Should I be worried?



  1. Great post, John!

    This is something about which I feel incredibly strongly. Unfortunately, I’m never quite sure which side of the fence I come down upon…

    A few years ago, I completed your ‘Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector’ (PTLLS) course. Coming from a ‘media’ background, I chose ‘An introduction to Media Studies’ as the topic of my ‘micro-teach’. At the outset I felt compelled to justify my own fluid usage of the term as both the (correct) plural and the (commonly accepted) singular. So common is the misuse now that, were I to repeat the session, I’m not sure whether I’d even bother with the grammatical caveat.

    In this instance, misuse has won the day – and I am (ashamedly) complicit!

    Yet, if we are to resign our pedantry to old-stickler, fuddy-duddyism (behold my devil-may-care attitude!) then at what point do we draw the line?

    Is the ‘evolution of language’ truly a legitimate excuse for ‘dumbing down’ and increasing our acceptance of inaccuracy? Where correct and incorrect remains binary, why should language ‘bow down’ to misinterpretation any more than, say, maths or science? If enough people were to (incorrectly!) believe, through no more than laziness or a lack of adequate education (as is usually the case with language) that 2+2 actually was equal to 5, would that become commonly accepted..?! It seems unlikely.

    Nonetheless, I have encountered a myriad examples of (see what I did there?!) qualified teachers’ written responses informing students that they ‘should of…’ My blood boils, yet how can we demand more of our students when our (mostly ‘millennial’) staff are no longer exemplars of not just good, but correct practice?

    Disheartening though it most certainly is, the appeal of resignation increases the larger the battle becomes…

    P.S. You’ll be pleased to know that the eLearning team had this very conversation when recently rewriting each individual criterion of the updated VLE Standards!

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