Astonishing, logarithmic

Sometimes I wish people would stop saying “exponential” when they just mean “fast” or “a lot.”  Be careful what you wish for.  From Benjamin F. Carlson in the Atlantic:

A Quantum Leap, marvels Simon Rogers at The Guardian in a post that graphs Bolt’s astonishing, logarithmic rise in speed.

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6 thoughts on “Astonishing, logarithmic

  1. John says:

    I share your frustration with the abuse of the word “exponential.” Here’s a post I wrote on the subject.

  2. Maybe he means the behavior of -log(x) as x goes to 0?

  3. Harrison says:

    I think Carlson’s just a closet analytic number theorist.

  4. C. says:

    OK, I’ll take the bait on “exponential”. When used colloquially, as it usually is, the word “exponential” is pretty clearly just a metaphor. If the context indicates that the writer (or speaker) is really attempting to use the precise mathematical sense of the word, but is doing so incorrectly, then perhaps a scolding is in order. But I would argue that this is rarely the case.

    I’m reminded of the type of person who loves to point out that a woman cannot be “very pregnant”, she can only be pregnant or not pregnant. But “very pregnant” is a short, slightly humorous phrase which clearly communicates something that everybody understands.

    By the way, Jordan, I am not accusing you of being this type of person. Tagging your post “pedantry” (as well as your allegory a while ago about passing the salt) indicates that you are not. And god knows I often find myself taking offense at phrases like “ATM machine” and “I could care less”. I just like myself better when I can successfully ignore my inner pedant!

    PS–I agree that “logarithmic” in this context is just plain bewildering.

  5. Steve says:

    Me, I’m just waiting for the Cherenkov radiation as Usain Bolt approaches c….

  6. Lior says:

    The current headline at CNN is “Scientists discover massive ring around Saturn“. The story makes it clear that in CNN-speak, “massive” means “very large space-wise”, even when the objects described have very little mass.

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