Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why "$" but not "%"?

Dear Skeptical Inquirer:

Charles A. Reichardt and Ian A. Saari performed a valuable service with their research into “When Don’t the Highly Educated Believe in Evolution?”, and Skeptical Inquirer is to be commended for publishing it.

I am writing because the article was festooned with the word “percent” — occurring 6 times in the opening big-type paragraph alone and many more times thereafter. References to percents of the population are only to be expected in analyses of shifts in public opinion, and I have no problem whatsoever with their usage in such a context.

What continues to drive me up the wall, however, is their formatting — always as the spelled-out word “percent”, never as the more efficient and more readily apprehended symbol “%”. See it right there, the capital “5” on your keyboard, chummy next-door nabor to “$”, the capital “4”, which nobody ever seems to have any problems using, and only 3 doors down from the hugely popular "@"?

So why does Skeptical Inquirer, along with all major newspapers and magazines, continue to eschew the “%” in favor of the “percent”? The answer should be an embarrassment to any group dedicated to critical, forward-looking thinking and not being dragged down by the heavy chains of tradition and cultural conditioning. It’s the same reason we’re all still stuck with QWERTY keyboards: a relic of the technological inadequacies of a bygone era.

Christopher Sholes invented the awkward QWERTY key layout back in 1873 for the express purpose of slowing down early touch typists, so their mechanical keys wouldn’t keep jamming all the time. And the Associated Press Style Book insisted on spelling out the word “percent” because the lowest-common-denominator teletypes of the 1930s and 1940s didn’t have that symbol as part of their character set. Teletypes! Hell, you can hardly even find a fax machine any more.

Just as the NFL has no excuse for continuing to use Roman numerals for the Super Bowl when Arabic numerals are available and easier to translate, just as the US has no excuse for obstinately clinging to ACHU (the accidental collection of heterogeneous units) when the rest of the world has gone metric, so too does Skeptical Inquirer have no excuse for using “percent” instead of “%”. You guys, at least, should be open-minded enuf to do something about it.

= = = = = =
If God had wanted us to use the metric system, he would have given us 10 fingers.

— Ashleigh Brilliant


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