Monthly Archives: August 2010

Percents and percentage points

Originally published on Grammar Monkeys on Aug. 13, 2010.

Sometimes in journalism we have to — gasp! — do math, because it’s part of the news. We have to get the numbers right, just as we have to get the facts right and the language right. To those who think a journalism or communications degree means you can forget about math, think again: Math is a key part of many news stories, corporate memos, nonprofit reports, etc. And it needs to be done correctly.

So, in the spirit of the upcoming election season and its steady stream of polls, a note on the difference between “percent” and “percentage point.” This is also relevant when talking about tax rates, test scores, and so on.

Percent is a fraction of something. Percentage points are how percents are measured.

They are not the same thing, so if you are comparing two percents or rates, be careful how they are expressed. Here are a few examples:

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The typo fixers

Originally published on Grammar Monkeys on Aug. 8, 2010.

We see typos every day — on signs, on the Web, on shirts, in books. Most of us shake our heads and move on, or snap a picture to post online. But as Benjamin Herson, one of the co-authors of the new book “The Great Typo Hunt,” observes, “a typo that everyone walks past and no one ever corrects signifies a much deeper communication breakdown.”

typoHerson traveled the country with his buddy Jeff Deck in 2008 spotting and attempting to fix all manner of typos, using Sharpies and “elixir of correction” and chalk and markers, even climbing ladders to rearrange letters. Their book chronicles this adventure — quixotic though it might have been — including the federal case that got made out of one of their fixes. It’s a fun and interesting book, with insights into language and culture that go way beyond misplaced apostrophes. An example: One worker was particularly steadfast in her refusal to let them fix an error, telling the pair, “I would rather have a sign spelled incorrectly than a tacky-looking sign.”

Read a full review of the book here.