Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Sad Case of the Abused Language

I've posted before about how angry it makes me when people use the wrong words but today I'm going for a variation on this theme. I get equally angry when people misuse language, whether through laziness, stupidity or intent to deceive.

Let me explain with an example: How often have you heard someone say something along the lines of "Only a fraction of x end up with a successful y"? Phrasing things like that is so damn lazy! I want to shake people who talk about "fractions" with no further explanation. Or better still, staple their mouth shut so they can't spout such meaningless crap any more.

Or maybe a few quiet words would suffice, like: "Listen, dickhead! Tell me what fraction or at least what sort of fraction. 99/100 is a fraction - unless you tell me otherwise I have no way of knowing whether the fraction you mean is closer to 1/100 or 99/100. At least provide some sort of qualifier: less than 1/2, a small fraction, a tiny fraction. I do believe most people use this phrasing out of laziness but there are definitely those who do it maliciously.

This is most often in media or political statements. They use the empty statement of "only a fraction" to back up their point while glossing over the fact it's no backup at all - it doesn't mean anything! More often than not, the truth behind this statement from a politician or some talking head pushing an agenda is: "I'm talking crap, there's no actual evidence to back me up. This thing I'm making a big scene about is actually not a significant issue. I'm simply exploiting general ignorance and prejudice to further my own ends."

Another one that really ups my angry factor is the way stores advertise sales. Their ads proclaim in big letters: SALE 50% OFF! Then there is the fine print, words like "up to" and "selected items only". Us poor suckers rush out to the store only to discover that the only item at 50% off is a pair of socks. That sort of advertising is so close to a direct lie that these bastards should be doing jail time. What is this "up to" bullshit that they get away with? I mean 0% falls under "up to" 50%.

In fact, when I take over the world (don't forget, this will happen) all hyperbole will be banned from advertising. And in all probability, advertising/marketing executives will all be publicly executed. But no more of these deceptive ads. Instead of terms that are so broad as to be meaningless they will have to be specific. How many and/or what percentage of items are at the maximum discount? What is the most common level of discount? And if you advertise something good on sale you'd better damn well have it in stock when I get there.

Try the old "bait and switch" on me and I'll put your face through a fucking shredder!


moonflake said...

a fraction of people reading this blog will agree with you.

Mr Angry said...

ooooooohhh got me a beauty!

Niels said...

My girlfriend once wanted to buy a bikini that was "50% off". As it turns out, the only thing in the store that really was was the top of the bikini. The bottom actually happened to be very expensive.

You can borrow my thermonuclear device on your way to the top.

pigeon weather said...

hey, i just heard on the radio that the stock market was "down a fraction" and thought of your 99/100ths

another good one is "not more than 7% real fruit juice" - this could mean zero percent, and it also seems to imply there's something wrong with "real" fruit juice.

Blueprincesa said...

But don't you know? 42% of statistics are made up on the spot anyway.

Niels said...

Fruit juice rocks?

Michelle said...

I kind of like your ideas, though of course I've only read a fraction of what you've written, (meaning that I have read some, and not knowing how much there actually is, I'm unqualified to specify exactly what percentage of your material I'm familiar with).