“More than 10”

My wife bought a new variety of muesli, which promises “more than 10 delicious ingredients” (not “over 10”!). So how many is “more than 10”? The back of the package shows and names 12. So why say “more than 10” instead of “12”? I suspect it’s to give them some wriggle room if they ever want to tweak the ingredients. They can remove one or add any number, and still have “more than 10”. 

I’m not sure that oats by themselves are “delicious”, which is why so many varieties of porridge and muesli exist. 

Speaking of which, one student yesterday said he “drank porridge” for breakfast. I just couldn’t, either by words or actions, explain the difference between “drink porridge” (from a cup or possibly a bowl raised to the mouth) and “eat porridge” (from bowl, with a spoon). Maybe, in a beginner class, I should have left well enough alone.


More subeditorial accuracy

Following yesterday’s post about subeditorial accuracy, today I was subediting an article about nutrition in pregnancy. The external writer included the statistic that nine out of 100 full-term pregnancies result in the death of the baby shortly before, during or shortly after birth. That … can’t … be …. right. Fortunately, the source the writer cited says that the figure is nine out of 1,000. Unfortunately, every one of those is a tragedy for the family.

Maybe this is a good reason to include commas in 4- or more-digit numbers. If she’d written “1,00” it would immediately look obviously wrong. 

Relatedly, not long ago, I was subediting another article about pregnancy, and it mentioned the mother’s diet preconception. I just had to put a hyphen into that.

(I’ve also decided that in this blog from now, subedit and all related words will not be hyphenated. (WordPress accepts subedit, but not subeditorial.))

Sub-editorial accuracy

One of the purposes of sub-editing is to ensure accuracy of content. A few days ago, I was editing an article about complementary medicines (vitamins, minerals, herbs, weight management, sports nutrition etc), which stated that the value of the CM industry in Australia had increased from “$1.9million” in 2011 to “$3.5 billion” in 2015. Wow!  Really?

The author (an in-house journalist) provided a reference to a document published by a body claiming to be the largest CM industry organisation in Australia, and that had those figures. He agreed, however, that the first figure just had to be wrong, and that we should change it to “$1.9 billion”. An author and sub-editor agreeing is one thing; changing a monetary amount against a documented source is another.

I searched for “complementary medicine Australia 1.9 million 2011” and found another document from the same body also stating “$1.9million” but with a graph calibrated in “AUD $ mill”, showing a figure just below “2,000”, that is “$1,900 million”. My guess is that the original author typed that, thought “hang on, that looks awkward’, changed the “1,900” to “1.9”, but then forgot to change “million” to “billion”. (The lack of a space after “1.9” is another clue that something’s been edited there.)

So, this will appear in the next issue of one of our magazines as “$1.9 billion”. And none of our readers will ever know the editorial detective work which went on behind the scenes.

1004 angels

Driving home from my sister’s house this afternoon, my wife suddenly said “Angel”. I said “What?”. She said “That house”. I said “What about that house?”. She said “Cheon-sa” (which I know is the Korean word for angel. I said “What about it?”. She said “That house has the number 1004. Cheon-sa.” Okay, okay, I’ll get Korean puns eventually.

Some Korean (actually Sino-Korean) numbers are pronounced the same as real words, or parts of real words. Il (one) can also be day or work, i (two) can also be this or the surname Lee. (There is nothing unusual about this – English one can also be won, and two can be to or too). With no context, it is impossible to know whether cheon-sa is 1004 or angel.

Even in context, it might be ambiguous. In the “Catalogue Aria” of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Leporello lists the Don’s sexual encounters, ending “In Spain, one thousand and three ”. So he can presumably say to the next one “You are my cheon-sa”. If he knew Korean and if he wasn’t dead by the end of the opera.

one, two three, first, second, third

There is statistical law called Benford’s law or the first-digit law, which states that in many naturally occurring collections of numbers, the first digit is significantly more likely to be 1, 2 or 3, and significantly less likely to be 7, 8 or 9. 1 is the first digit about 30% of the time, and 9 about 5%.

This also generally applies the written words one, two, three etc. Google Ngrams shows that one to six appear in exactly that order, then ten, eight, seven and nine. Ten gets a boost because of its use as the base for the decimal system, while eight is a power of two, and we prefer counting in even numbers.

Continue reading

death by overwork (no, not me)

From How your job is killing you by James Adonis in the Sydney Morning Herald (I try to avoid giving free publicity to companies, but I’ve got to credit my sources):

The Japanese have a word, karōshi, to describe people who work themselves to death. … In China the word used is guolaosi. … South Korea, too, has a term for this pervasive condition: gwarosa.

A little bit of linguistic knowledge shows that those are actually the same word, in the pronunciation systems of those three languages. Japanese and Korean have borrowed a large number of words directly from Chinese, and have also created new words themselves from Chinese characters.

Continue reading