The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

2:09pm on Saturday, 22nd January, 2005:

Counterfactuals and Journalists


From the Property Section of the Essex Country Standard for the week beginning January 21st:

House prices could continue to rise this year, if the upward trends of the past four years continues.

No, House prices will continue to rise, if the upward trends of the past four years continue. How could they not rise if the upward trends continue?

And note it's "continue", not "continues"...

This reminds me of an exchange I had as an undergraduate with Pamela Small, a fellow Computer Science student:

Me: I was told at school that the word "woman" comes from "wombed man".
Pam: But some women have had a hysterectomy and they're still women.
Me: So?
Pam: You're not a man if you haven't got a womb.
Me: I haven't got a womb; does that mean I'm not a man?
Pam: What?
Me: You said "You're not a man if you haven't got a womb". Surely you mean "you're not a man if you have got a womb"?
Pam: Are you winding me up?

Well yes, I was — Pam was very wind-upable. Nevertheless, it's interesting how the same sentence can mean the exact opposite depending on where you put the operator precedence.

Not a lot to do with the piece of sloppy journalistic writing that sparked it off, but that's often the way with anecdotes.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).