Thursday, July 26, 2007

This is probably one of my worst posts ever

I would like to complain a little today about a phrase that I frequently hear on the NPR morning news. "One of the Worst", also sometimes "One of the Highest", or when talking about the Iraqi Occupation, "One of the Deadliest".

As Mark Twain once said that Benjamin Disraeli once said: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Here is a little Venn Diagram (invented by Venn Vennsen, of course) to explain what I mean.

As Mr Vennsen's Diagram Clearly shows, the phrase "One of the most" only excludes ONE THING from the list; the least.

In other words, the 3 in a deck of cards could accurately be called "One of the highest numbered cards in the deck", because it is not the 2, which is the only card that can't be called that. It would be far more reasonable to say that the 3 is "one of the lowest numbered cards in the deck" but both statements are accurate. If you wanted to give some useful information, you might say that the 3 is "the second-lowest numbered card in the deck". That would give your reader/listener something concrete, a fixed point to go from.

So instead of hearing that the latest car-bombing in Baghdad made this month "One of the deadliest months so far" in the Iraqi occupation, which tells me nothing, why not say that the bombing made this month "The third deadliest month so far", or that it is "15% deadlier than last month", or that it "came within 5 deaths of the deadliest month so far, which was last October" But please, don't tell me that it was one of the deadliest months... Nearly every month fits that description.

A similar thing happens with the Stock market news. The little blurb at the top of the hour, which tries to encapsulate the massive, complicated workings of the U.S. and world financial markets into a seven-second paragraph, ALWAYS uses a superlative adjective to describe the current position of the Dow Jones Index. The tricky thing is, they keep adjusting the timeframe of the sentence to get to the superlative.

Here's a F'rinstance: If you had been growing out your hair for years, so that your hair now falls down around the small of your back, but you wanted it to grow more, so you had the split ends trimmed off, wouldn't it be a little misleading to tell someone that your hair was "The shortest it's been all week"? I wouldn't use the term "Shortest" to describe that hair at all, yet that is what they do with the Stock market news all the time.

Here's another: If you were a young man at a Ballroom full of Senior Citizens and children,you would by no means be the oldest or the youngest person there. But if you took your son over into a corner, you might be the oldest person in that part of the room, so then the word "oldest" could be applied to you. And if a news organization simply HAD to use a superlative age-related adjective to apply to you, then they would have to keep adjusting the list of people they compared you to until you were top or bottom of the list.

If you had a ten dollar bill to your name at the beginning of the year, then in February you inherited a billion dollars, then spent some of it in March and April, then in May your bank Account would be "At it's Lowest level in five weeks" even though it is up ,like, a million percent from January.

--------- The Daily Haiku of the Day™ ---------
You're "One of the Best"
As Long As There Is Someone
Even Worse Than You.

The good news here is that the phrase "One of the sexiest people to have ever walked the earth" applies to you. So keep a picture of someone uglier than you in your wallet as proof.

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