Are You Sure You Mean “Majority”?
A reader in the UK asks
Have you dealt with most v majority in your tips ? Perhaps you don`t suffer from a rash of “majority” in the US but here it`s a disease. “The majority of the rain will be in the west.” “We spend the majority of our time in town.” It`s that sort of thing ALL the time, in the newspapers, on the radio. everywhere. When did “most” die out ?
A quick web browse indicates that the “majority disease” is universal.
Why do the majority of people never get cancer?
The Majority of Muslims Who Attend Mosque Weekly . . .
Chomsky: “The Majority of the World Supports Iran”
Pew Study: Despite Budget Shortfalls, the Majority of Governors are Increasing or Protecting Pre-Kindergarten Funding
the majority of rainfall moved south, east, and west of the hardest-hit drought areas.
All of these examples represent an unnecessary use of the statistical term “majority.” In each case “most” would be adequate.
Sometimes “majority” is the right word
majority: a number or percentage equaling more than half of a total –Merriam-Webster
The following example shows the word being used appropriately:
In much of Ethiopia, similar to the Sahelian countries to its west, rainfall from June to September contributes the majority of the annual total,
Here a determinate amount of rainfall is being considered. More than 50% of the total falls from June to September. Less than 50% falls during the remaining months. The word “majority” makes sense in this context.
A Vast Majority
Not only do writers use majority in contexts in which most will do, for some writers, “majority” isn’t complete without “vast.”
Grijalva: Vast Majority of House Progressives Not Prepared to ‘Surrender’ on Public Option
Vast majority of Americans likely to become fat
Coalition: Vast Majority Of Iraqis Still Alive
Surprising New Poll Reveals: Vast Majority of Americans Support the Climate Bill
Kinds of “Majority”
A site called Electorama gives these definitions of different types of “majority”:
A majority means, literally, “more than half”. Compare this with plurality, which means “the most of the group”. When applied to specific situations, majority can take on different meanings, depending on how you apply it:
▪ relative majority usually means “plurality”
▪ simple majority means “more than half of cast votes”
▪ absolute majority means “more than half of eligible voters”
▪ a supermajority is a fraction of the voters between half and all (e.g. 2/3)
▪ consensus usually means complete agreement or “all voters”
I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory definition for the expression “statistical majority.” It seems to mean “a bare majority,” such as 51% of votes cast between two candidates or proposals. It often occurs in writing that is critical of the outcome of an election in which one candidate or proposal has won by a slim majority.
Writers may wish to question their use of the word majority. Is statistical information being discussed? Or is the meaning just “most”?
As for “vast majority,” I’d say that, except for the rarest landslide, that expression belongs in the cliché bin.
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