What, specifically, is the numerical definiton of ‘most’:
Academic linguists have traditionally agreed that when we use the word “most” in English, we usually mean anything from 51 to 99 percent of given group of people or collection of objects. “Some linguists have argued that the word ‘most’ includes the 100% value as well, and that the meaning of ‘most’ is identical to that of ‘more than half.’ My study has proved them wrong,” says Prof. Ariel.
Working with 60 volunteers from English-speaking countries including Australia, Britain and America, Prof. Ariel and her research team presented each candidate with a dialogue which included a reference to ‘most’, then asked them to choose an appropriate response (one out of two provided for them). “We didn’t directly ask them about how they interpreted the word ‘most,’ but based on the preferred responses, we were able to draw conclusions regarding the classical theory in the field.”
When people use the word “most,” the study found, they don’t usually mean the whole range of 51-99%. The common interpretation is much narrower, understood as a measurement of 80 to 95% of a sample –– whether that sample is of people in a room, cookies in a jar, or witnesses to an accident.
Prof. Ariel cautions that 80-95% is valid today but could shift over the next 100 years, for example.
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