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Desert Diary


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Genera and genuses, species and specie, data and datas. What's this all about? It's about tip-off words—words that tip off those in the know as to just how educated you are in special fields. A biologist looking for a job? Don't talk about Felis and Canis being genuses—all informed biologists know that the plural of genus is genera. And don't talk about the Mountain Lion being a specie. Biologists know that specie refers to coins, not a kind of animal; that the word species is both plural and singular. Little things? Indeed, but enough to insure you don't get the job.

What about "data"? Kinda sneaky, because for those in the know, "data" is plural, so it's "data are", not "data is". If you really want to know, the singular form is "datum". Sure, language changes through time, so we talk about someone having an agenda, rather than an agendum. Changing language or not, the next time you go hunting for a job in the world of biology, be assured that you're genius enough to use "genera".
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.