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Are there any synonyms for the term mode as used in statistics?

the value that occurs most frequently in a given set of data.

The term seems like one that is not user friendly and would not be understood by all users. What are possible alternatives that are easier to understand?

  • The 'mode' does not need to be a numerical value in the statistics register: mode n 6. Statistics The value or item occurring most frequently in a series of observations or statistical data. 7. Mathematics The number or range of numbers in a set that occurs the most frequently. [AHDEL] In a statistical situation, what's wrong with the accepted term 'mode'? In everyday English, terms like 'the most common ...', 'the most popular ... are surely general reference. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 8 '13 at 16:29
  • @EdwinAshworth The word is being used with the statistical meaning, but not in a context or environment where the audience is likely to understand statistics. – Southpaw Hare Nov 8 '13 at 16:32
  • I must ask 'To what purpose?' – Edwin Ashworth Nov 8 '13 at 16:34
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    @rajah9 I'm an ex-teacher of maths, and I wouldn't ever have used those terms below degree level. You have to draw the line somewhere. Would you use the term 'product' for 'any result of a binary operation' (thus including sums, quotients, means of two numbers...)? Distinguish between (or even use)'augend' and 'addend'? For binary combination or unary increase? I agree that 'mode' cannot really be substituted, though – we'd cover it at roughly the same time as 'mean' and 'median' (and perhaps 'mid-mark'). – Edwin Ashworth Nov 8 '13 at 17:08
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    @EdwinAshworth, I first learned "subtrahend" and "minuend" in fifth grade, as did Hellion at english.stackexchange.com/a/94314/3306. (About 11 years old.) My children learned "mode" in their pre-algebra chapter dealing with statistics, right along with "mean" and "average." They were about 14, well below degree level. <soap box> My main point is that if there is an existing, precise word to describe it, then one should teach it and use it! The growing paucity of our language reflects a declining ability to conceptualize. The use of rich, precise words may counter this trend.</soap box> – rajah9 Nov 8 '13 at 17:26
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Depending on context, I think there are bunch of alternatives:

  • The "most common" value
  • The "most popular" value
  • The "most prevalent" value
  • The "favorite" value (perhaps)
  • The "leader"
  • The "front-runner"
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    +1 for "most common" which, to me, would be the easiest to understand. – Ste Nov 8 '13 at 16:29
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    "most frequent" or "most frequently-occurring" if you have time. – John Lawler Nov 8 '13 at 16:38
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I have looked at several math sites, covering a wide range of math abilities, but of the big three -- mean, median, and mode -- mode does not have a synonym.

In contrast, mean has synonyms ("average" or "arithmetic mean"). Median has a synonym ("middle value").

Here are the sites I examined:

Several of the sites have revealed a shortcoming with the synonyms. Consider the data set:

1 2 4 7

What is the "most common" value? While there is no single value, there are four "most common" values: 1, 2, 4 and 7. What is the mode? There is none, by definition.

Consider the data set:

1 2 2 3 4 6 7 7

What is the "most popular" value? There is no superlative, although 2 and 7 are perhaps more popular. The above data set is bimodal, and its modes are 2 and 7.

(By the way, think of sampling a population for basal levels of a sex hormone, like testosterone. If the sample included both men and women, the mean would not be very meaningful. However, the modes would be more meaningful, as the data would probably be bimodal, and you would get one mode for men and another for women.)

Although the OP has pleaded for an "easier to understand" synonym, I don't think there is a synonym for mode in the statistical sense.

I would recommend taking the time to define mode to the OPs (mostly) adult learners. Consider how the common words "nose," "legs," and "bouquet" take on a new, specialized meaning when sampling wines. Or how common words "liquid," "frozen," and "underwater" can take on new, specialized meanings when describing financial assets. In turn, "mode" can take on a new, specialized meaning with math. They wouldn't even have to learn a new vocabulary word; they could just re-purpose an existing one. With ice cream on top.

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