Monthly Archives: August 2010

Percentile

PERCENTILE: “each of the 100 groups into which a population can be divided according to the distribution values of a particular variable…: the tenth percentile for weight.” — New Oxford American Dictionary

Earlier this year, Lexicide addressed the tendency to add unnecessary letters to a word to fluff them up a bit. …And here we go again. I have seen clients, contractors and colleagues drag out percentile when they mean percent, as in: “We aim to command 25 percentile of the market in five years.” If they’re really trying, they’ll tack on the definitive article to make it “We aim to command the 25th percentile…” Both are wrong. In fact, the second one is, in my opinion, worse. The first one you can chalk up to ignorance or carelessness. The second one shows you’ve seen the word in its correct form and have chosen to use it stupidly. Why would you want to control the bottom 25% of the market, whatever that means?

Percentile does not mean “percent.” If it did, it would be spelled p-e-r-c-e-n-t. Percentile also does not mean “percentage,” as in “We aim to increase our percentile of market share.” Hey! Why not just avoid the problem altogether and write “We aim to increase our market share.” There’s a thought. But I don’t need to tell you that. After all, we’re all in the 95th percentile for intelligence here, right?

Otto E. Mezzo

P.S.: Oh, and you know what else bugs the snot out of me? Percentage points, as in “We aim to increase our share by 20 percentage points.” What are you, Don King? Increase it by 20 percent and the board will be just as happy, and with the money you save on toner, you can buy one of these.