Sunday, September 27, 2015

Logic, Math and Lingusitics: John's Pet Peeves Number 4

Okay, you're probably going to think this is just too picky, but that makes you wrong. These things really bug me, and should bug all right-thinking rational people everywhere.

"One of the only"

Let's be clear headed here. It's either "one of" or "the only," and never both. the first case is when there are more than one and the item in question is one of them. The second is if there is only one and the one you have is it. You can't have more than one and exactly one of something because that is a logical contradiction.

Now that you've read this, you have been infected, and you'll see and hear this everywhere. It's like buying a white Kia, then discovering the city has thousands of them being driven around. You don't notice until something like that is pointed out, then you can't un-notice it.

"Three times less"

Really? Come on, guys. This is simple math. "Three times" means you are multiplying something by three. What can you multiply by three to get one third of something (which is what the writer or speaker probably meant to say)? Math says that in this example you get one third by multiplying one ninth by three. So to generalize, for "N times less," you're somehow talking about some mysterious property that is 1 / (n x n) of the original. That's just wrong. Stop it!

Now be aware that it's perfectly normal if you're talking about percentages to say "twenty five percent less" because you're clearly talking about something in relation to the whole, so you meant seventy five percent. No brain damaging weird inverse square calculations needed. Even "one third less" or "one third of" are cool because they also refer to a portion of the whole.

You can also say "three times more" with no problem, because that also refers to the whole thing and not some bizarre fractional component required to make the math work.

I'm glad we had this little chat. If you're going to ignore me and keep using these perverse expressions, have mercy and don't do it where I can hear.

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