Media is the plural for medium

Plural for medium

Whenever I need to use a word that has more than one correct form, say for example past-tense forms like dreamed vs. dreamt or plural forms like fungi vs. funguses, I check the dictionary. For every word with multiple correct options, dictionaries always have a preference. And they indicate it by listing their preferred form first.

For example, in Webster’s New World College Dictionary under fungus, the first thing you see is “fungi or funguses, ” meaning the dictionary prefers fungi.

So you can imagine my shock when I looked up the noun medium and saw that the dictionary’s first choice for a plural was not media but mediums. Had I stopped there, I would have forever believed that this Webster’s - the dictionary I have to follow in most of my work - would have me say, “Print is one news medium, digital is another, and together they’re two different types of mediums.”

That’s completely counter to conventional wisdom. Most people who pay attention to this stuff will tell you without hesitation that one news medium and another news medium together form two news media. (Which is different from a fortune-teller type “spiritual medium, ” which in the plural is “mediums.”) Yet, in the very place that this dictionary indicates its preferred forms, it seemed to be saying that I should opt for mediums over media.

Good thing I kept reading. Under its third definition for the noun medium, Webster’s says: "3. pl. usually media: any means, agency, or instrumentality, specif., a means of communication that reaches the general public and carries advertising.”

In other words, the preferred plural indicated at the beginning of the listing wasn't the same as the preferred plural for one specific definition of the word. So, yes, if you consult two fortune tellers you talked to two spiritual mediums. But if you read a newspaper and a magazine, you consulted two types of media.

Good thing I kept reading.

As for whether media is necessarily plural, that's covered in this week's podcast. But here's the spoiler anyway: depending on its use, media is sometimes treated as a plural and sometimes treated as a singular.

Interesting facts
  • A transmission medium (plural transmission media) is a material substance (solid, liquid, gas, or plasma) that can propagate energy waves. For example, the transmission medium for sound received by the ears is usually air, but solids and liquids may also act as transmission media for sound.
    The absence of a material medium in vacuum may also...
The product is us: it's often not understood that in many areas of the mass media - newspapers, television, magazines - the real product is the ... from: Canada and the World Backgrounder
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