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A reader has asked me to discuss the word quantify:

I was hoping you could help me with the word quantify. I feel like I’m not quite using it correctly.

As a term in logic, quantify means to ascribe universal or particular quantity to a term or proposition. For example, the statement “Dogs are playful” is not quantified. Adding a word like some or all quantifies it: “Some dogs are playful.” “All dogs are playful.”

The Ngram Viewer indicates that quantify, along with metrics, has become especially popular since the 1960s. A Google search brings up 23,700,000 results for quantify and 90,600,000 for metrics.

Note: The business definition of metrics is “standards of measurement by which efficiency, performance, progress, or quality of a plan, process, or product can be assessed.”
The urge to quantify by accumulating metrics seems to be as popular in our culture as coveting granite countertops.

Job hunters are urged to quantify their resumes. Organizations study performance metrics. Bloggers quantify success by counting such things as visits and comments.

As far as I can tell, in general usage, quantify means “put everything you can in the form of numbers or percentages.”

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Social media users are obsessed with quantifying:

I wish that I could give more than five stars for mobile kangaroo! .

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your life?

As of today I have over 100 followers on Twitter, and more than 80 subscribers to my blog! 

My meow mix video got a million shares on Facebook today.

The only errors I found in the use of quantify were in statements that used quantify where I would expect qualify. For example: “You need to quantify your opinions.” As the speaker was not asking for numbers, the verb qualify, “to modify (a statement, opinion, etc.) by the addition of some limitation or reservation,” was the more appropriate choice.

If there’s a problem with the use of quantify, it lies in the implied message that everything of importance can be rendered in terms of numerical facts.

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1 thought on “Quantify”

  1. Just catching up…
    Yes, these days people feel the need to quantify everything, which has been the beginning of the end for the medical field. It is more important to have data, “evidence-based medicine,” based on numbers, success rates, percentages, tracking, trending…than QUALITY. Yes, of course there CAN be a connection between quality of care and successful outcomes, but these measures and metrics do not take into account that we are dealing with HUMANS, who may or may not act in their own best interests no matter how intelligent they may be, no matter how persistent their care providers may be, no matter how many warnings they may get, no matter how their health may be affected by, or deteriorates because of, actions they may take or may fail to take. OK I will get off my soapbox now. For a little while.

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