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Qualifiers with Infinite Denominators Link

August 12, 2008

I like digging through how we use and perceive words.  Here is a fun one from Chris Andersen’s Blog

Many words we use imply a ratio.  Here are the top 5 words whose meaning fizzles when the implied denominator becomes large:

  1. "Most"
  2. "Average"
  3. "Typical"
  4. "All"
  5. "None/No"

It is not only large denominators that undermine these words (more accurately, the success we have using our intuition to make predictions with these words). They also fall apart when probability distributions are anything but Normal (peaked, symmetric and short-tailed).  We don’t seem to do a great job of helping people understand multi-modal or skewed distributions with our basic statistics education.  It is increasingly important in planning and executing many business ideas that we become more sophisticated with long-tailed, asymmetric and multi-modal probability distributions.

Chris is the author of The Long Tail and editor of WIRED magazine and curator of TED.  He is working on a new book about "free" products and services.  All recommended–check them out.

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