On a Word Choice

I imagine many sports fans are like me – that is having one team – that is having one team they detest under any and all circumstances. Instead of many, it may even be most sports fans … but I’m confident this isn’t true for all.

For me, it’s the University of Kentucky (UK) – especially in basketball. After all, I’m unhappy even when they lose. I can honestly say that their fans drove me to that point because I find UK fans to be arrogant, condescending, blind, self-centered, and more uncomplimentary adjectives.

I know that UK fans haven’t cornered the market on that behavior. After all, a large school in the center of my state exhibits similar behavior regarding a ball of another shape that bounces funny.

I’m confident that my statement isn’t true for all UK fans – and I’m unsure if most qualifies because I don’t have the numbers to support the statement. Yet, I find many is a good descriptor because being a relative term and a bit vague. After all, on first thought a million is many, but is it when compared to a billion?

However, this post isn’t about sports or the University of Kentucky because the above sets the stage for my experience and point.

Sometime in January 2014 I was reading a humorous post about the start of a new year. It was quite amusing and very well done … well … until reading one important sentence. In the blogging world, I tend to take the high road to avoid confrontation, so I didn’t comment – but the statement kept festering in my mind – so I returned to add my thoughts to the comments section.

My comment wasn’t disrespectful to the host – not even snarky – but I made my point in a respectful manner, and the host reciprocated the same way. We exchanged several comments, and in the end, while agreeing to disagree, I moved on … and yes, I have returned since the encounter.

To me, at issue was the word all – a word that is quite inclusive. Because many or most wasn’t used, I don’t positively know that my reaction would have different, but because I focused on all, I’m confident that my reaction would have been different.

Is there a difference in using many, most, and all? Is blog writing so informal that we should overlook the use of these descriptors?


89 thoughts on “On a Word Choice

  1. Using “all” nails you in a corner – there are always exceptions. Better to leave a little wiggle room/ offer acceptance of possible differences with “some”, “most”, “many”..”it seems/it appears that”. When working with the public, in business, or in research, total absolutes are generally avoided.
    But then again if you’re confrontational, oblivious to other views, rabidly ranting, or having a terrible horrible no good very bad day, occasional use might be understood – although it risks losing readers.
    It used to be very bad manners to use such absolutes, now, well, some people are very angry, frustrated, and rigid. And have been told all their lives they how special they are. How could they possibly be wrong?
    “It’s their blog and they’ll absolute if they want to – absolute if they want to – absolute if they want to. You would absolute, too if it was you blog” (All together now sing?)
    Laugh on, Frank. Just laugh on.

  2. Frank, I was going to give you a hard time about this post, being sports related. Lately, all that’s on TV is sports and one month into baseball season I am sick of it.

    But I wouldn’t do that to you so soon after your return to blogging… ;)

  3. All is a little restrictive; however, I’m good with ‘all’ of it ;)

    On a sports fan note, it has been said by many, many visiting hockey players that Winnipeg has the most awesome fans in the NHL. GO JETS!!! :D

  4. Oh Frank, you are so right! “All” is one of those absolutes that if used when the reality (I was careful not to say TRUTH) is really “many” or “most” will correctly demand an OMG response. If it is a small group being discussed–all my nephews are handsome–then the all works. But all men are handsome, not really! Even if subjective, one ugly guy makes the statement a lie.

    I do think, however, that it is the English teacher in me that makes this whole matter something about which to be concerned. (How stilted is that construction?!). I bet philosophers would cringe over the inappropriate all as well, and lawyers. Geez. Did I just willingly compare myself to lawyers and philosophers? I am going to stop rambling now.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Patti,
      Good point about group size. To me, “most” is another one that can be questionable because (well, at least to me), most means the majority … at least one more than half – thus implying statistical support. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. I’ve long held, Frank, that when you peel off the civilized rind of a human being, what you find at the core is all tribal. That veneer of civilization is still terribly thin because we’ve only been claiming it for about 1% of our species’ existence, and it rubs off readily. Tact is needed and usually in short supply.

    • The rind analogy is good. I agree about the tribal parts. Today we have so many outlets that let us exhibit our tribal parts. Some use facebook, or blog, or youtube, etc. It can and does get ugly. Hooray for civility.

    • Not all statements can fit the Bell Curve – for example, “all even numbers are divisible by 2”, “all living humans have one head”, “all English words contain at least one letter”. So saying that using “All” is not accurate all the time is also inaccurate :)

  6. Sports can bring out the worst in some people and yes, there’s a difference between many, most, and all. The more rabid the fan, the more lunatic the behavior such as bonehead statements like, “I hate the [insert team name here] and I hate all their fans.” Some fans cross the line, start mouthing off like idiots, and let their aggression get out of control. Healthy rivalry is fun, but when it goes in the direction of utter lunacy, count me out. As for what people write on the Internet, that’s a free-for-all, Frank. Bloggers are notorious for writing all kinds of opinionated drivel with little fact checking.

    • Lame,
      I’m a sports fan, and I agree with you. A friend of mine told me that he learned to differentiate the general characteristics of visiting college fans (I’m not naming schools involved) … but he used words as classy, partiers, and obnoxious.

      Your statement about bloggers reminded me of the film State of Play staring Russell Crowe (which I enjoyed).

    • X,
      Point well taken because it is a matter of context – and your “Lists” Given that all humor reading is not the same, I’m certain that the use of “all” in the post I mentioned was unnecessary.

  7. Frank yes there is a difference between the three words and one should be careful of the “all” word firstly making sure that no exceptions to the rule exist… I find that even saying all birds in a particular specie are “…….” there could so easily be an exception to the statement and as I don’t know each and every bird that exists I cannot use that word… but I must admit I see it used so often in the context that is incorrect, but take the statement with a pinch of salt realising that the author actually meant “most”

    • Bulldog,
      Your point reminded me about an display in a exhibit at our science museum. The American Robin is a common bird, and the females have a spotted breast. The display showed at least at least 50 robin females lying on their back … and wow … the differences were quite obvious. So, as you mentioned, diversity in the living world can be problematic. Thanks for sharing! …. and I hope you are feeling better!!!!

  8. To me, English, not being my native language, these 3 words have completely different meanings. I don’t think that we should go round using a formal language in blogging, however thinking before writing is crucial [imho], so I agree with you! :-)

    • Marina,
      Having the innocence of a language comes in handy, so your comment is refreshing … and “thinking before writing” is not only critical, but of utmost importance.

  9. I believe the use of some words is dependent upon the situation, plus maybe, one’s interpretation of the situation. I think you and the writer both handled it well, with the civil conversation, it also says a lot in the fact that you have since returned to the site.

  10. I’m not sure if you have heard this already, but there is now a web browser app that automatically replaces all instances of the word “literally” with the word “figuratively” (http://www.cnet.com/news/browser-plug-in-changes-literally-to-figuratively).

    As with the word “literally”, the word “all” can be used appropriately (as I did in the previous paragraph), but too often it is used without the necessary knowledge applied to justify its existence. Thus, like the word “literally”, it is losing its literal meaning. My advice would be to not add fuel to the fire.

  11. I agree with you Frank – all for me is finite with no exception, a word that is used “all” too often and will usually exaggerate the integrity of the statement. Many and most at least gives room for compromise.

  12. I try to avoid “all”s and “never”s other than for humor purposes, because, let’s face it, there are always exceptions to everything. I like to say, “Never say never.” So original, isn’t it? ;)

    • Carrie,
      I like the fact that you (as well as List of X) point to the fact of using “all” in humor writing. Although I mentioned the post as humorous, I don’t think it fit the exception … so thanks for helping me realize the exceptions!

  13. All men suck.

    On December 14, 2013 I would tell you this was an absolute true statement and there would have been nothing you could have done to convince me otherwise. The problem is, I have wonderful examples across many areas of my life that prove this to be an absolute lie, yourself included.

    I agree with you Frank, except in rare circumstances the use of All, paints us into corners. Language is purposeful, we should try at least to be purposeful in our use of it.

  14. All is fair in love and war:) Sorry, could not resist. I think all is one of those tricky words – i agree with valentine and carrie – and so many of those who have commented above – i think it slips out and it is not intended to be offensive, but more times than not it usually is. Sports is an interesting thing – a category of it’s own, really – you are familiar with where i live and familiar with where i grew up. i will admit, i wear my teams proudly, but let me just say i hear about it.

    • Kimberly,
      Good point about intent. In the case I mentioned, I don’t think it was intended to be offensive … and I could be the only reader who reacted that way.

      Given your location and knowing the teams we support, it’s always a tad of danger wearing team colors outside of one’s domain.

  15. In technical writing, we are taught that “all” and “any” should not be used. They are too inclusive and expansive, and that can get us in trouble in a court of law. Thus I have abandoned these words, for the most part. Many times, I write them down only to edit them out later. I do the same with other writing now, too. It’s one of the few good lessons I’ve culled from technical writing.

    • Trent,
      Excellent points for the technical writing perspective. Knowing that you’re a baseball fan, here’s an example. A friend says to me that he hates closer X because he blows all save opportunities … then I answer, if blows all save opportunities, how did he get 30 saves?

  16. I do understand your concern about the word “all” as a descriptor. I am very careful with words, but find many people, (and I really do mean many), use words very loosely and clarity of meaning is often lost. I do admire that you went back to have a clarifying moment with the other blogger. I think sweeping statements are responsible for a lot of the fuel that continues to spread not only misunderstanding, but also tends to set up adversarial conversations. You do set a really good example for how to address issues in a respectful way, Frank.

    • Debra,
      Too often (in life and with social media), respectful dialogue is not the chosen path … although our exchange didn’t reach a resolution … but at least all was respectful.

  17. Not a sport fan …. but a good ice hockey match .. will get me going. *smile – Especially if NY Rangers play – all because of their sexy goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. That is sport and sexiness in one fantastic package. Post will follow soon.

  18. This is not at all how I understood … the post – maybe I read something else. *laughing.
    I hope I get it right this time. The written word is sometimes so easy to misunderstand, because we can’t see the person when it was written, we don’t know if the author was smiling or upset.
    So it’s so easy to get words wrong and they are suddenly very misplaced for somebody.
    I have in my comments … at time been very blunt, mostly because I’m a straight to the point person – and don’t go around the bush. Sometimes after I have posted my comment – I wish I had written it in another way.
    Many, most, and all??? There is a difference even for me that write in Swenglish, but it all depends on the in what sentence it’s put … but I don’t know if I would have picked it up in any what ever sentence its put.

    • Thanks for returning …. so know you understand the way I set up the post. Good point about what we don’t see when reading words … and to me, your same point is reason why one must be careful with the written word. Thanks for adding good points to this discussion.

      • Frank, I don’t understand why I got the sport from, but anyhow … sorted.
        Yes, we have to be careful with the written words … and we also have to be broadminded when reading words.

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