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How flexible is the measurement "a dozen"?

If there are nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand people at a rally it is acceptable to say one million people attended, but if eleven people are arrested is it acceptable to round up to a dozen?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Dozen is quite flexible when it is pluralized. While hundreds sounds natural, you don't often hear about there being tens of something. Saying there were dozens of something fills this void without implying an exact multiple of 12.

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I agree with @Robusto's answer in terms of a single dozen being very specific, but I also agree with you with regards to a large number which might be called more generally, "dozens" of something. The two answers together, I think, fully answer the question. –  Eri Jun 1 '11 at 1:58
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I always figured the plural kinda lets you off the hook on "dozens". After all, 30 is 2.5 dozens. –  T.E.D. Jun 1 '11 at 2:14

A dozen is a very specific measurement. It means twelve. If you have 11 items you can't call that a dozen, you'd have to say "around a dozen" or "about a dozen"; if you have 13 items you can say the same, or just call it a "baker's dozen."

Twelve is a small enough number that you don't really need much rounding.

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Similarly "roughly a dozen", "nearly a dozen", and the less formal "a dozen or so" and "something like a dozen". It can be used without qualification in hyperbole: "I've got a dozen good reasons you shouldn't move to Ohio!" –  Matthew Frederick Jun 1 '11 at 1:27
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+1 for answer and @Matthew Frederick, great comment to complete it. –  Unreason Jun 1 '11 at 1:51
    
But equally, a million is also a very specific measurement, and that is used more loosely. –  rmx Jun 1 '11 at 12:35
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@mx: But when people use the term "a million" they seldom mean exactly 1,000,000. I can give you a million reasons why this is true. –  Robusto Jun 1 '11 at 13:00
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+1 If you say a dozen, and you're out by one, your error is at least 8.3%. But you say a million and you're out by one, your error is only 0.0001% (or more meaningfully, one part per million) –  DaveBoltman Aug 25 at 9:52

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