The Grammarphobia Blog

Commander Data and the Doc

Q: In your blog item about the word “graffiti,” you say it should be treated as a singular noun, like “data.” So, how is “data” pronounced? I’m presuming it’s DAY-tuh, but I’ve heard others say DA-tuh. On a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Commander Data (an android) corrects the ship’s new doctor when she calls him DA-tuh instead of DAY-tuh.

A: It’s hard to get this one wrong, though Commander Data had every right to insist that Dr. Pulaski pronounce his name the way he wanted.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) has three correct pronunciations: DAY-tuh, DA-tuh (the a in the first syllable is like the one in “cat”), and DAH-tuh. There’s no indication that any of them is more common than the others.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) has the same three pronunciations in the same order, though it says the last one (DAH-tuh) is heard less frequently than the first two.

The Oxford English Dictionary, though has only one pronunciation, the one preferred by Commander Data: DAY-tuh.

In case you’re interested, the OED has at least 44 Star Trek citations. The earliest published reference is from The Making of Star Trek, the 1968 book by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry.

The most recent citation is from an Oct. 15, 2002, review of the video game Gex in the New York Times. The game, the reviewer says, mimics everyone from Austin Powers, James Bond, and Maxwell Smart to “the entire cast of Star Trek and the Star Wars trilogy.”

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