A thing to be done.

Yes, you guessed it. This is the sin­gu­lar of agen­da. And yes, its use is some­what archa­ic. OED calls it «now rare» and Cham­bers does­n’t list it at all. Agen­da’s mod­ern usage is clear­ly sin­gu­lar; one looks at the agen­da before begin­ning a meet­ing, and some­one pro­mot­ing polit­i­cal views is said to have an agenda.

But it is at least use­ful to under­stand agen­da as a list, as opposed to sim­ply «that which some­one wants done». It’s a list, a set. And this is why it is grat­ing (though not incor­rect) to hear ref­er­ences to «agen­das», espe­cial­ly when these agen­das belong to a sin­gle person.

The util­i­ty of the word agen­dum could be the impli­ca­tion that the goal which one wants to achieve is not the only goal. Agen­da has been used to rhetor­i­cal­ly sug­gest that a par­tic­u­lar goal over­rides oth­er con­cerns. One might be able to respond to such veiled accu­sa­tions by clar­i­fy­ing: «of course I have an agen­da, and cer­tain­ly pro­mot­ing renew­able ener­gy is an impor­tant agen­dum of mine.» It’s a clum­sy exam­ple but hope­ful­ly illustrative.

Even if there is no mod­ern util­i­ty to agen­dum it is reveal­ing to the ori­gin of the word and a reminder of how lan­guage evolves in some­times sub­tle but impor­tant ways.

2 Replies to “Agendum”

  1. Agen­dum
    Inter­est­ing­ly, my dic­tio­nary lists “agen­dum” as the sin­gu­lar for “agen­da” and “agen­da” as the sin­gu­lar for “agen­das”.
    And it defines “agen­dum” sim­ply as “an item on an agen­da”. It is rather amus­ing when one thinks about it. Is “skele­ton” plur­al for “bone”?

  2. PS
    Did you notice I am switch­ing to the British rule of plac­ing peri­ods out­side quotes, like we do with ques­tion marks and excla­ma­tion points. Part of the plan to make our lan­guage more rational.…