Good stream hydrography requires careful attention to technical detail.
We care deeply about the precision of our data. So why would we be tolerant in the precision with which we define data?
At issue is matching a verb with the noun. According to Wikipedia, “the word data is the traditional plural form of the now-archaic datum”. From Latin roots, data means “something given,” which implies a fundamental unit granularity.
In modern use the word ‘data’ is used as a mass noun, like water, using the singular tense. I am definitely not modern. I don’t have tattoos, body piercings or dependency on personal electronic devices. I am stuck with the historic, scientific, use of the word data as the plural of datum.
This is a bit of a problem because I never use the ‘archaic’ word datum to identify a single element of data. I will use the terms ‘value’, ‘unit value’, or ‘data point’ for a single unit of data.
I reserve the term ‘datum’ to identify a horizontal plane of reference for a gauge. The offset value for a gauge datum can vary through time (e.g. due to land subsidence) so the term is often associated with a set of values of which only one is valid at any given time.
Nonetheless, whatever the name given to a single unit of data – it is a named thing. This is quite different from anything that qualifies for use as a mass noun. There is no name given to identify a single element of water. It is always called water whether it has the mass of a single molecule or the mass of an entire ocean.
It may be a small thing but I like the integrity that the historic use of the word data brings to any discussion.
I know I am in a decreasing minority as instant messaging and thumb typing change the way we communicate. One thing I am sure of is: