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Referenda or referendums?

August 7, 2019

On Radio 2 today Vanessa Feltz was doing a piece about the possibility of another Scottish referendum on independence, and she had on a guest (whose name I can’t remember, I’m afraid) who used the plural form referenda. Feltz herself, however, kept using the form referendums. Neither explicitly corrected the other, but each went on doggedly emphasising their preferred form. It was as if a silent battle, subterranean to the actual topic under discussion, was being waged.

Personally I side with Feltzy here. Referenda sounds prissy to me; self-consciously ‘correct’, as if one is airing one’s knowledge of Latin declensions. Referendums to my ear is more natural. It’s true that we all say agenda and not agendums, which would sound ridiculous. But language isn’t always consistent.

Still, both forms are in use and my spell-check programme allows them both. So it looks as if you can make up your own mind on this one. 

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3 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    I’ve heard people on football programmes refer to stadia which also sounds overly formal.

  2. Agree: don’t like ‘stadia’.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    Rather like the data is/data are debate. Whichever is grammatically correct data are sounds wrong to me.

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