Language evolves. Words change meaning – sometimes to the opposite of the original definition. I get this, sometimes I encourage it, sometimes I don’t. However, there are some incorrectly used words that evolution will never fix.
Today’s rant is around the use of the word “percent.”
Simply put, percent means “of 100.” It is another way to describe a fraction, or smaller part, of something.
If you say “of 100” instead of “percent” you’re likely to get it right every time. After all, 20 of 100 (20%) makes perfect sense. On the other hand, what the heck is 200 of 100? That is the translation of 200%.
The most you can have of 100 is 100. There is no more than 100%.
The Common Problem
The problem is mainly around describing increases. At least, I rarely see improper percentage use around decreases because once you’re down 100%, you are out of whatever you are measuring. Unless we’re talking about money. Since going into debt is not a topic I want to cover today, we’ll just stick to increases.
Let’s say you are watching how many visits your website gets in a day. If yesterday you had 100 visits and today you have 125 visits, that is an increase of 25%. If yesterday you had 100 visits and today you have 200, that is twice as many visitors. 250 visitors would be 2.5 times as many.
What About Consistency?
Consistency dictates that you use the same terminology when describing increases. However, when your increases are in multiples, consistency is no longer an issue – accuracy is.
It is OK to stop speaking in parts when your increases are in multiples.
You could start speaking in fractions, but that gets extremely awkward quickly.
Just to Make Things More Confusing
Here’s another thing. If you say you have 200% of something, that’s different than a 200% increase of something.
200% of something is two. However, an increase that gets you to twice as many as you had originally is a 100% increase. So, does a 200% increase take you to three times as many or four?
And, the Rant
It doesn’t matter what you have after a 200% increase because there is no such thing as a 200% increase!
You CAN have twice as many, three times as many, four times as many. You CAN have double, triple, or quadruple. Yet, you can ONLY have 100 percent!
Postscript 9 February 2021
My sister, the HR person, argues that you can have more than 100% depending on what you’re talking about. For example, the difference between A and B can be 200% that between B and C. I think it’s the comparison of two differences so there isn’t really an original value that you are comparing to.
Personally, I think that the difference between A and B is twice that between B and C.
We agreed that we would never agree.