Perhaps because I’ve been a software developer my entire professional career (and for some time pre-professional), I tend to prefer thinking in a precise way. I’m actually not sure if my Development experience has enforced that, or if I became a developer because of that, but regardless, that’s how it is. But to me, things are what they are, and you should call them what they are, because that’s what they are.

I’ve never been good at “spin”, and a recent mantra of mine which I only half-jokingly use is #MarketingRuinsEverything. That’s not true of course, and I have a lot of friends and colleagues that are “Marketing People”, and they have to make a living and eat too but some of that still gets under my skin.

Also, I well understand that language is an amorphous, made up blob of knowledge that works because it is commonly held among individuals in a given audience, and that it changes over time and common meanings (as long as they are common!) ebb and flow with time. One of my favorite videos from one of my favorite people says this much better than I can. Of course, there is also this one from one of my favorite comedians which is a bit of a counterpoint, and yet I love them both. People are funny.

So, that said, 2 things which I know are both irrational given the above, I tend to see more often, and they just bother me for their imprecision (or perhaps, accuracy). “Pi is 3” is more accurate than “Pi is 4.21231”, but less precise. Anyway…

The first one is the misuse of “average”. Everyone seems to use use “average” on the wrong thing, like “The average American family has 2.3 kids”. No. No no no. You’re not averaging “Americans” or even “the American family”, you’re averaging the number of kids. It SHOULD be, “On average, American families have 2.3 kids”, or “American families have an average of 2.3 kids.”, or even, “American families have 2.3 kids, on average.”

The second one is “…times less than…” or “…times lower than…” or any number of ways to indicate a lesser-than/fewer-than relationship, in terms of some multiple. As a developer I see this most often in performance claims. “The new code is 4x slower than the old code.” What? How can it be “4 times slower”. ONE times slower would be … stopped. The “times” relates to the original, or higher value, so multiplying by that value even once then subtracting, zeroes it out.

Along these lines is “Product A is 3x cheaper than Product B.” Again, “ONE times cheaper” would be free.

Yes, yes, I get it. “4x slower” means it runs at 1/4 the rate; “3x cheaper” means 1/3 the cost. But for the love of god, just say that.

It’s probably confirmation bias, but I’m seeing this more and more, more and more often. I guess it’s part of the “language changes, and as long as everyone knows what you mean it has done its job”. So I’ll get over it, but maybe, just maybe, if a few people recognize this in their own writing and redo it, I’ll see this up to 2x less often.