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In the Jerusalem Post headline, Palestinians split on Itamar, the statistics cited in the article say that approximately two-thirds of the Palestinians who were polled opposed the attack (Itamar is the name of an Israeli town in the West Bank that was the site of a terrorist attack).

Can split mean divided in a manner other than 50/50?

When contacted, the Jerusalem Post editorial staff defended the headline. Do you agree? If so, is there a limit to the ratio; for instance, if 90% were opposed, would it still be called split?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

The meaning of the word "split" depends on context. If both of us pooled our money to buy a raffle ticket, and I said I'd split the winnings with you, I expect that you would have grounds for a lawsuit if I did anything but divide it 50/50.

However, if you have three candidates running for something, and two of them have roughly the same stand on the issues, you can say the third candidates won because the other two "split the vote", even if the vote totals were 40% and 15% for the first two versus 45% for the third.

I certainly wouldn't object to a headline saying "public opinion split" if the percentages were 55/45. I most definitely would if the percentages were 80/20. Exactly where to draw the boundary is debatable, although my opinion is that the headline is misleading in this case.

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Split can be something other than 50/50. For example, when talking about profit share, you could agree on an 80/20 split.

But if you don't explicitly state the split, I would expect it to be closer to a half share. A 2/1 split as in the headline is significant a split for me, in fact a split decision in boxing is when two judges choose one fighter as the winner and the third judge picks the other.

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But context is important. If we were at a restaurant, and I said I'd split my dessert with you, I don't think you'd expect me to take 80%. – Peter Shor Sep 11 '11 at 10:57
Good point, for 80/20 the share is explicit. But closer half shares it needn't be, and also relevant to the question, a 2/1 decision in boxing is called a split decision. – Hugo Sep 11 '11 at 11:28

No, split just means divide, in the real sense of the language. The phrase 'split in half' comes to mind. Usually it can be assumed that you mean 50-50 when no specifics are mentioned, almost like a default value. But like others pointed out, it depends on context most of the time colloquially.

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Actually, is 'split in half' valid or should it be 'split in two'? (snarky mathematician comment!) – barrycarter Sep 11 '11 at 14:29
well, doesn't split in half mean split in two with equal share.. split in two can be followed by say a percent for the first part, but not split in half which is conclusive. – alex J Sep 11 '11 at 15:39
I think that would be "split in halves". Since "split in two" means "split into two pieces", wouldn't "split in half" mean "split into half pieces", which doesn't quite seem correct. – barrycarter Sep 11 '11 at 17:11

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