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My question concerns user Dan Bron's comment (but now deleted), marginally emended below:

The statement 1. "people of all races incorrectly estimated X", means
2. "At least one person of every race incorrectly estimated X", or, equivalently,
3. "There is no race where all members had a correct estimate.".
4. Logically, that means that it's quite possible that some members of a race -- or, indeed, some members of every race -- estimated correctly.

I. Would someone please explain how statement 1 = 2? What's wrong with my belief that 1
= 5. 'ALL people of all races incorrectly estimated X.'

II. I've been studying English for a long time, yet failed to discern this. What's this phenomenon or subject called, so that I can seek references to enlighten myself? Is it 'logic in English'?

closed as off-topic by Kris, Drew, Centaurus, tchrist, Marv Mills Mar 13 '15 at 13:49

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  • Please renumber/reformat this to make it readable – mplungjan Oct 3 '14 at 9:50
  • People of all races means "some people from each race" - so logically it is possible that there were some people, race not specified, that correctly estimated X – mplungjan Oct 3 '14 at 9:51
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    What's wrong with your belief is that it doesn't say "all people". It could mean that, but it doesn't have to. This is English, not logic. – Colin Fine Oct 3 '14 at 10:20
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    No, it's not "logic in English", it's simply logic. Try transliterating -- as directly as possible, with minimal interpretation (that is, based on form, not *content) -- the passage from English to French, and then evaluate it. I think you'll come to the same conclusion. – Dan Bron Oct 3 '14 at 11:23
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    Read "people of all races incorrectly estimated X" as a shortened form of "one or more people of all races incorrectly estimated X", and if that still worries you, as a shortened form of "one person, or two or more people, in every race, incorrectly estimated X". – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '14 at 12:51
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Just to reiterate Edwin Ashworth's explanation in a comment above, I think that the sentence "People of all races incorrectly estimated X" is much less likely to mean "All people of every race incorrectly estimated X" than it is to mean "Some people of every race incorrectly estimated X."

In part this conclusion reflects probability: Intuitively, it seems far more likely that at least one European, at least one Asian, at least one African, at least one Native American, and at least one aboriginal Australian might incorrectly estimate X, than that every single European, Asian, African, Native American, and aboriginal Australian might do so. The exception to this normal order of expectation would be if the estimate involved an extremely esoteric question, such as How many stars are in the Crab Nebula?—in which case the fact that no one, regardless of race, estimated the number correctly within a precision of ±1000 stars is unlikely to be deemed newsworthy.

But in part this conclusion also reflects how a speaker or writer is likely to frame a piece of extraordinary information. If not one person interviewed happened to estimate X correctly, it seems to me that the reporter would be more likely to express this fact in the form "Not one person, regardless of race, correctly estimated X." Not only is the wording more dramatic than the rather flat-sounding "People of all races incorrectly estimated X," but it is not susceptible to misinterpretation, as the latter obviously is.

In view of the magnitude of the dropped word's significance to the sense of the underlying idea, it is far more likely that "some" would drop out of the statement "Some people of all races incorrectly estimated X" than that "all" would drop out of the statement "All people of all races incorrectly estimated X." The same thing happens in "Tears of a Clown": "People say I'm the life of the party, 'cause I tell a joke or two," sings Smokey Robinson. But it would be a stretch to conclude that he means "All people say I'm the life of the party," and not "Some people say I'm the life of the party."

  • Please see my comment at OP. – Kris Mar 9 '15 at 7:19
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The fact that the author said neither "some people" nor " all people" leads me to believe that he WANTED TO IMPLY that "most people" incorrectly estimated X. And many readers might infer that. Yet, as others have pointed out, it only necessarily means that one or more people of all races incorrectly estimate X. Thus the author can weasel out if readers take the broader implication, and then find it not to be true.

One might also doubt whether "all races" were tested or polled (and it is a topic of some dispute as to what "all races" would even mean.)

I suggest that the author's statement is an unscientific conclusion that would not stand up to "peer review".

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