Singulars and plurals: they’re usually really easy to differentiate, but sometimes they make you look like you’re not in command of your native language.

The most common one I hear in a business context is ‘criteria’. It catches folk out all the time. You see, criteria is a plural, and it’s not the kind of plural you can use in a singular context, like ‘data’ for example. You often hear criteria coupled with ‘success’, a popular entry in bullsh*t bingo.

So you have one criterion, from the Latin criterium and before that the old Greek kriterion, and you have multiple criteria from the Latin – you guessed it – criteria. Data has the same latin origins, but it’s so much part of our everyday language that it’s morphed into a collective singular noun and it’s quite acceptable to say ‘the data is awful’ for example.

Not so with criteria. You’ll hear even senior people in an organisation saying ‘which particular success criteria is the most important?’, which gives them away. Of course, mine’s the stiffer upper lip British diagnosis of the word. In other English-speaking territories, they’ve taken a slightly more lenient view. Then again you’ll sometimes hear people talk about the many criterias you can select from, yikes…

Advertisements