Saturday, January 13, 2007

Language Qs: Am I Imagining Things; or Has Most Lost Its Mostiness?

On January 13, 2007, the CNN website (last update 0350 GMT) carried the headline Most Americans 'oppose Bush plan' as one of its top stories. The article itself has a somewhat different headline, i.e. Poll: Two-thirds of Americans oppose more troops in Iraq. And when you click through to the actual poll results, you find that the score is 66% to 33%, with what seems to be an unusually low 3% without an opinion. That's 2 to 1, an overwhelming majority, sure, but "most"?

I am not accusing CNN of doing what the Fox News fans accuse them of doing. In fact, this particular usage has become quite common. The word "most" seems to have lost what I think is its orginal meaning, and is being used in cases where there seem to be nothing more than clear majorities.

So, when and how did this happen? Is this part of a larger phenomenon? How much do you think is "most"? Or am I just imagining things?

(Note: Two points of interest to me are:
1) The more specific it gets, the more it becomes evident that there is still a sizeable minority after all this that believes that sending in 21,500 more troops is a good idea.
2) The people who favor Mr. Bush's plan are relatively evenly divided between those who "moderately favor" (13%) and "strongly oppose" (19%), but the antis "mostly" (50% to 13%) oppose it strongly. In other words, the support is lukewarm, while the opposition is adamant. This should be instructive in gauging public response in the US to any further deterioration in the situation on the ground, and ultimately voter behavior in 2008.

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