Numerical References

At first, I just laughed when I read, “Scores of people visit Miami each year.” Then I realized this was another example of a writer using a term with no clue about what it meant.

How Much Is a Score?

A “score” means 20. Perhaps the two best-known uses of the word are these:

  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

  • Psalm 90 (King James version of the Bible) regarding life expectancy: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

From September 2016 to August 2017, 15.9 million visitors traveled to the Miami-Dade County area. To refer to this number as “scores” is, shall we say, misleading. If you are referring to an imprecise number, use the word comprising the largest applicable grouping such as hundreds, thousands or millions.

A Fortnight Is Not a Video Game

Put down that pickax, Fortnite addicts. Every Jane Austen fan knows that a “fortnight” is a measure of time, specifically two weeks, i.e., 14 nights. You may come across the word professionally, particularly regarding wage payment intervals, but it is seldom used in the United States now.

Total Destruction? Maybe Not

The word “decimate” originated to describe an ancient Roman military punishment. If a unit rebelled, a commander could not afford to execute all the troops; instead, one in 10 was killed. The prefix dec- comes from the Latin for the number 10, which is why we have words like “decade” and “decathlon.” Technically, “decimate” refers to destruction of a tenth.

Today if we say something is decimated, we mean a large portion is destroyed, such as when an epidemic attacks a population. Many people use the word to signal total destruction, but that usage is not true to the word’s root.

Know What You’re Talking About

Sometimes a word comes to mind that has a certain rhythm and just seems right for the sentence you are writing. You may have seen that word in context and made an assumption about its meaning.

To avoid putting the proverbial keyboard in your mouth, do not use words or phrases until you are 100 percent certain of the meaning. Even if you think you know the definition of a seldom-used word, consult your favorite dictionary to be sure.

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