1429: Data

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If you want to have more fun at the expense of language pedants, try developing an hypercorrection habit.
Title text: If you want to have more fun at the expense of language pedants, try developing an hypercorrection habit.


"Kirk vs. Picard" is a debate that many Star Trek fans engage in — specifically which was a better captain of the starship Enterprise on the TV show. Captain James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard each were captains of the ship in different periods (Kirk was captain of USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) in The Original Series, while Picard was captain of USS Enterprise-D (NCC-1701-D) in The Next Generation), but fans argue over who was the "best". Most third-place candidates are pretty distant, resulting in a more multi-faceted debate. Cueball seems to be looking at results of polling for this third most popular character.

The humor in this comic stems from the fact that the Latin word data is a plural form of the word datum ‘a piece of information’, and that originally English followed Latin's lead and treated data as plural. However, in more recent English, usage of datum has faded to the extent that data is treated as a collective noun. This usage is becoming increasingly (but not universally) accepted as grammatically correct — the Wall Street Journal, for instance, recently announced that it is moving away from saying "data are," while the New York Times' manual of style allows for both variants depending on usage scenario; USA Today, however, is consistently using data as a plural ("data are"). Naturally, the purists insist on the form that is correct from the Latin grammar point of view and see "data is" as an example of a subject-verb agreement error. This type of "error" is present in the beginning of the sentence that Cueball is citing ("According to this polling data," while certain traditionalists would hold that the grammatically correct variant would be "According to these polling data").

The second error in the same sentence is due to the fact that Data is a character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Since it is a character's name, when used to refer to the character, "Data" should always be treated as singular.

By reversing the verb agreement in both cases, Cueball is going out of his way to annoy grammatically obsessed people.

The title text suggests the mocking of language pedants/amateur grammar Nazis by hypercorrecting one's use of language. The sentence itself is an example of this:

  • The general rule is that words starting with a consonant should be preceded by a, while words starting with a vowel should be preceded by an. However,
  • The letter h is a special case, since in words like honor (/ˈɒnəɹ/) and hour (/ˈaʊəɹ/) the h is silent so the words actually start with a vowel sound, thus leading to the use of an.
  • Beyond this, there is a longstanding controversy over whether to use a or an with words that in some accents start with a silent h and in others they don't (see Straightdope). The Oxford Learner's Dictionary says about historical: Some speakers do not pronounce the ‘h’ at the beginning of historical and use ‘an’ instead of ‘a’ before it. This now sounds old-fashioned.
  • In the title text Randall adds the word hypercorrection to the list that includes historical and history. In this invented accent, the pronunciation would be "ypercorrection".

This comic complements two of the My Hobbies comics 326: Effect an Effect (which discusses the trolling of amateur grammar Nazis) and 1405: Meteor (which mocks pedantry). This comic could also just as well have been labelled as one of Randall's Hobbies.

This comic also appears to be an example of self-irony as the author himself has previously exhibited certain inclination to insist on grammatically strict mode of usage of words loaned from Latin. One such example is the fact that xkcd's online discussion forums are called fora, which is a correct plural nominative form of forum in Latin.


[Cueball reading off a smart phone to someone off-screen.]
Cueball: According to this polling data, after Kirk and Picard, the most popular Star Trek character are Data.
Off-screen voice: Augh!
[Caption below the frame:]
Annoy grammar pedants on all sides by making "data" singular except when referring to the android.

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What should "off-screen" be called in the transcript? I just put that since I didn't know what else to say. Also, someone needs to a) explain the Kirk/Picard situation and b) explain the title text. Sorry for not doing it myself, but I'm editing on my phone so there are probably errors that people need to fix and other people know far more about it anyway. Athang (talk) 04:42, 3 October 2014 (UTC)

Based on looking through some other transcripts, it looks like the convention is "off-screen". Also, fixed some typos in your comment. Cheeselover724 (talk) 06:06, 3 October 2014 (UTC)

The comic refers tp "pedants on all sides", which implies there is some kind of debate/dispute about the issue in the grammatical world. If someone who is aware of this dispute were to explain the details of it and/or provide links to sites that discuss it, I think the explanation would be greatly improved. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

There seems to be an ongoing dispute of whether to rigidly stick to the latin form (datum singular, data plural), or adjust to the way it is far more commonly used. There appears to be divided opinion amongst grammar pedants, hence the 'on all sides'. Data are or data is? - Guardian Newspaper, Is Data Is, or Is Data Ain’t, a Plural? - WSJ -- Pudder (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I always thought the noun data was non-quantifiable like "gasoline" which you'd need a unit to pluralize. "This piece of data suggests more than those gallons of gasoline"... 05:03, 3 October 2014 (UTC)BLuDgeons

I added some info on Kirk vs. Picard, but I'm not sure how useful or understandable it is. Sorry in advance. Cheeselover724 (talk) 06:01, 3 October 2014 (UTC)

As someone pretending (for purposes of this comment) to speak with a classic British Cockney, what's the matter with "an hypercorrection habit"? Brettpeirce (talk) 14:34, 3 October 2014 (UTC)

Agreed. The consonant 'h' sound is not always preceded by "a". Is it quite common for other words starting with consonant 'h' to be preceded by "an". One is example is "An historic occasion". MrBigDog2U (talk) 14:28, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
"Hotel" (yes, with the French connection) is the classic test, IME, for dropped or kept haiches (or 'aiches), with the middle-classes tending towards using "a hotel" whilst both the lower and upper classes gravitate towards "an 'otel" (for different reasons, with different empheses). Of course, if the person has an affectation (or "haffectation") "an hotel" (or, more like, "ane hotel") or even "han 'otel" can arise, to frankly ridiculous degrees. But this is just personal observation, and may not survive even inter-regional train travel, never mind transatlantic relocation... 16:11, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
An hero. Just sayin. Diszy (talk) 17:49, 5 October 2014 (UTC)

I always took "fora" to be tongue-in-cheek mockery of pedantry rather than a frank insistence on proper grammar Djbrasier (talk) 13:22, 4 October 2014 (UTC)

You were lucky that accusative and nominative in second declension neuter have matching endings, otherwise pedants would prey on "I always took fora" part of your comment :) Either way, please consider giving forīs a benefit of the doubt. Without forōrum and their memorable name, xkcd wouldn't be the same :) Nyq (talk) 14:12, 4 October 2014 (UTC)

Would it be worthwhile emphasizing that "hypercorrection" is a specialist term, employed by those studying language, grammar, and its development over time/history. Some might think that the term is merely descriptive, something along the lines of "hyper/taking-to-the-max tendencies to do stuff correctly". Rather, a definition would be something like "a non-standard usage that results from over application of a perceived grammatical rule" 08:12, 5 October 2014 (UTC)

Another thing to annoy grammar pedants is that it should always be "character is" or "characters are": consider a clearly plural character: "..., the most popular Star Trek characters are The Tribbles" versus "..., the most popular Star Trek character is The Tribbles" and cf the equivalent to the comic: "..., the most popular Star Trek character are The Tribbles". IMHO each of my quoted examples are more likely to be viewed correct than the next. Mark Hurd (talk) 01:07, 6 October 2014 (UTC)

Yet nobody complains about "everybody/everyone is" International Space Station (talk) 02:35, 1 February 2016 (UTC)

Compare "every person is" to "all people are." Every and all are both determiners, but they belong to different subclasses. Every enumerates over a group or class, as it is a distributive determiner like each, either, and neither. All indicates a quantity, as it is a quantifier like both, enough, and some. In "every person is X," every applies the statement to each element in the entire class to which person belongs (people); for each person in all people, the person is X. In "all people are X," all gives a size (the entire class) to the group or class that is the subject (people). 'Everybody' and 'everyone' evolved from "every body" and "every one," so the syntax used for the two-word form got applied to the pronouns. 12:57, 17 April 2016 (UTC)

Is it just me, or does "ypercorrection" not make any sense as a pronounciation? 05:59, 12 May 2018 (UTC)

With the increasing prevalence of the use of singular "they" as a gender neutral pronoun on the internet and the use of prural forms together with it ("they are" used to refer to a single person of an unknown or nonbinary gender), referring to the android as "Data are" might be atually becoming somewhat correct... 20:00, 5 March 2021 (UTC)

Nope; the grammatical usage of the pronoun is separate from the noun it refers to. If you saw someone whose gender you don't know wearing blue, would you say "that person are wearing blue"? There's no LGBT conspiracy to destroy the English language -- the people trying to make you refer to them by fae/fem pronouns instead of they/them are a very small minority. --Youforgotthisthing (talk) 18:01, 28 March 2021 (UTC)
a vs an with h

my mother once pointed out to me that the characters speak weirdly in star trek. They consistently use "an h..", even if they don't have an accent that would omit the h sound. I think the title text definitely refers to this, it's too specific not to (talk) 18:02, 20 November 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)