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22 February, 2006

Define 'most'

Under the headline "Most Britons willing to pay green taxes to save the environment", the Guardian reports that 63% of people responding to a recent poll would be willing to pay new taxes on goods and services that damage the environment, while 34% said they would not accept such price rises.  For the record, I definitely would support such measures*.

Was it misleading to say 'most'? Statistically, I suppose it's a fair statement: of the three options ('yes', 'no' and 'don't know/maybe'), 'yes' received the greatest number of votes.
However, in linguistic terms, does 63% really qualify as 'most'? I'd set the threshold rather higher, personally – perhaps 80% or more.

I don't know; it just feels wrong, somehow.

*: So long as it's a tax on usage i.e. a penny on plastic bags or petrol, not a tax on everyone irrespective of individual usage i.e. a penny on income tax. There needs to be an incentive to use less.


the time constant of an RC circuit is the time taken to charge the capacitor to 63% of the voltage across it - something to do with e (as in natural logarithms and such) - so, anyway, there's something to be said for 63% as a threshold for 'most'... I reckon it feels strangely right :-)

Posted by Jon at February 22, 2006 10:49 PM

'most' just means 'greatest in number' or 'highest amount', so 63% would be 'most people'. I'd have personally used 'majority' myself as like you I'd consider 'most' to be a higher number, even if technically that's not the case.

Posted by Neil T. at February 23, 2006 12:17 AM

I think it's a matter of context; the Guardian wasn't absolutely 'wrong' in its usage, but within the headline the word takes on a different, loaded meaning. The headline implies overwhelming support, whereas the article describes merely a majority.

Posted by NRT at February 23, 2006 10:29 AM

Lots of things like this happen to me all the time. I hate it when there's a three or higer way vote (Like in Big Brother) They say the majority of people voted for person X when really he only got 33% of the vote but the rest of the votes were split between different people.

In spite of this I think that the newspapers are right to say 'most' because it is what most people said, and usally if it was say 80% of the poll they would say 'A huge majority'

Posted by AKA at February 27, 2006 05:33 PM
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