100% Will Suffice

By Simon Kewin

It’s quite common to read of people – particularly sportsmen and performers – promising to “give 110%” effort. England cricketer Andrew Flintoff, for example, once promised to give “110% in every game” he played. Of course, to do so would be impossible. When something is finite, 100% means all of it. You can’t give more effort than you can give. The term only really makes sense when comparing two amounts. You could put 110% effort into one game as compared to that of a previous game, but only if you hadn’t tried properly in the previous game, or if (say) you’re fitter and can now make more of an effort. Still, you can’t put in more than 100% of your available effort. 

Of course, it could be argued that this term is an acceptable colloquialism. Flintoff just meant he would try his absolute hardest. As so often, whether you should use the phrase depends on what you are writing. The term sometimes crops up in serious, factual pieces such as job advertisements or job applications, where it is surely inappropriate. If you were creating a fictional character with very precise language, you wouldn’t expect them to use such a term. But if you were creating a sporting character it may well be entirely reasonable for them to say something like this. 

One problem, though, is the inflation that sets in once the 100% barrier has been breached. If it’s possible to give 110%, is giving 120% trying even harder? Obviously neither claim makes logical sense; the language just becomes more and more meaningless. It’s fairly common for people to say they will give 200%, or 1000% effort. Phil Brown, the manager of an English football club, recently claimed his players were “one million percent” behind him. Search the internet and you can find people saying they will give one billion percent effort. And so on, presumably, until we reach infinity percent. 

Terms like “giving 110% effort” are now clichés. If you want to convey the idea of trying really hard, it’s better to find another way of expressing the idea.

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13 Responses to “100% Will Suffice”

  • cmdweb

    The fashion for using phrases like this is one that’s annoying me quite a bit at the moment. I think everyone understands that the people just mean they’ll be doing their utmost to succeed, work hard, or whatever it is they’ll be doing, so why don’t they just say that?

  • FlorianG

    I don’t think to promising to give 110% effort is just pure nonsense. Indeed, the claim makes logical little sense. But people overspend and even exploit themselves, nowadays – and for instance olden before their time. Thus, the claim points in my view to a culture in which things and goals are more important than the physical existence. This might be no problem if the goals are self-defined. But self-determination is often replaced with heteronomy.

  • phil dragonetti

    110% does irriate me—because–to me—it means 10% more than the minimum necessary. there is no realy contradiction here—for it dertainly IS possible to exert the extra 10%.

    What does irk me is supposedly educated writers using the word “fullest”. Something cannot be more full than “full”. as such, “fullest” has no meaning. This is quite different than the 110% issue just described above —where you CAN exert the extra 10%. Au contraire, you can NOT fill something to “more than full”—so what are these “fullest” writers imagining when they write “fullest”??? And these are “educated” people.

  • ApK

    I think we all understand that “110% effort” is hyperbole, cliche though it may be, to suggest giving all you’ve got then finding some more to give, which I personally think is still fairly effective language when used properly.
    On the other hand, there are also technical and precise uses of such >100 percentages.
    Listen to ground control talking to the space shuttle at launch, most notably during the Challenger’s last flight, and you’ll hear them report the throttle at 104%. The 104% refers to improvements in power over the originally documented 100% specification.

  • Acolin

    Labeling something cliché criticizes its overuse as tired, repetitive and unimaginative. The writer didn’t reinvent the wheel; they just did what came naturally. They used the well worn path and got there the quicker for it.

    Language clichés however do have their place. They persist because they encapsulate experience and emotion in one handy slogan. This one for example is not about quantity as these way-too-literal critiques would have you believe. This cliché is about quality. It doesn’t beat around the bush. In one simple percentage, 110% tells you about the level of desire, effort and commitment of the doer. Fictional characters don’t have to be original in everything they say: “Go ahead, make my day.” Are clichés abused by weak writers? “Why, certainly!”

  • Dick

    And then there is George McGovern, who backed his choice for Vice Prfesident “one thousand percent” in 1972.

    The unmathematical excess was effecetive in emphasizing his su pport. (even if he did replace Eagleton a week latger.)

  • b2j2

    Even worse: a claim to save “400%” of the weight of a material by substituting some new material (and not accompanied by structural magic). I tried to place an order for enough to make an airplane lighter than air, but …

  • Lily

    I would just like to thank Acolin for his or her very smart and well articulated explanation of the usage on the above topic. I’m betting on you!! Oops, did I say that?!?!

  • Eddy Bacher

    Watch Maury Povich and you’ll find that some women are “4000% sure” that a certain dude is the father of their child. 100% aargh!

  • preciseedit

    Is this the post where I finally get to talk about math?

    I think one problem is that people talk/write based on what they hear and that they don’t think about the logic or meaning of what they are saying/writing. This is a general comment that applies to many situations.

    I think the second problem is that people don’t have a good understanding of what numbers mean and how they interact (i.e., numeracy). For example, when reading press releases from our local state education agency, I may read that the average math score for 4th grade students last year was 54% and that this year’s average is 57%. Ok so far. Then I will read in this press release from our state secretary of education that this year’s average reflects a 3% increase in scores. Um…no. Three percentage pointss yes; three percent no.

    This reminds me of when I asked a group of teachers to give me the formula for the area of a rectangle. One teacher said, “Isn’t that like the circumference or something?”

    So…what’s the point? To some people, 110% effort seems possible because they don’t understand the concept of percentages.

    Ranting done, I think cliche’s (don’t panic: that’s an accent-not an apostrophe!) are the mark of an amateur writer, but, happily, cliche’s can be “rebuilt” to make them as useful, novel, and powerful as they were when first used (and before they became cliche’s): http://preciseedit.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/restoring-the-power-of-cliches/

    3 strategies for doing this:
    1. Word reversal
    2. Word replacement
    3. Adding concluding words
    (These can be combined)
    Good discussion on my two favorite topics: communication and math, which are 2 sides of the same coin (couldn’t help myself).

  • Andrew Toynbee

    ‘1000% effort’ is another example of the evolution of the English language (into the mire?).
    In a world of increasingly unlikely adjectives, to be seen to be putting in 100% effort would be to merely turn up and watch, compared to everyone else’s 110%.

    Saying that, some military aircraft have a 110% throttle setting for emergencies – not recommended for anything other than short-term use as it can shorten the engine’s life. But it’s there as a ‘quick get-away’ option.

    A British company called Standard had been very successful at producing reliable and innovative cars during the first half of last century. However, as the language shifted, their loss of sales became attributed to the fact that ‘Standard’ no longer represented the forefront; the standard, if you like, that all products ought to be aspiring towards.
    ‘Standard’ had come to mean ‘basic’…no frills…a baseline.
    What does ‘Fabulous’ mean to most people today? Does it conjure up images of dragons, Minotaurs and other mythical beasts? No. It has come to mean little more than ‘very nice’ as in;
    ‘Oh, yes, I’ve had a fabulous time (walking along the beach).’

    Rant over. I’m off to fill my mug to 110% with ‘fuller flavour’ coffee.

  • Stuart Travers

    110% I can cope with. To me, it’s saying “Here is what I accept is currently the best I can possibly do. I will now take that and find a way to increase it by 10% because this thing I want to do is just that important to me.” Both grammatically and mathematically, that works for me and allows me to hear the expression without cringing.

    1000% (or worse) is just abusing the privilege, and hurting my brain. Don’t say it because I *will* yell at the television. Right before I tell the damn kids to get off my lawn.

  • COA

    it’s a pun.

    people don’t use the term literally. who says things must have a literal meaning?

    i think most people will understand 100% is the most to give. but then as per the pun, they will give more than usual, or more than what is expected (hence the extra 10 percent to the whole)….

    i see nothing wrong with the phrase, sine it’s not meant literally. it’s used to emphasise that more will be given than the whole.

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