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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.

Comments

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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