What is the difference between "accurate" and "absurdly accurate"?

It is usual to use sentence like "The measurement is accurate". But, recently, I read a comment which include "absurdly accurate".

The following is a comment below an article on "Carbon dating".

"Given the lengths of time usually involved in radiometric dating, especially uranium dating, I find it remarkable that scientists are able to get the dates down to as small a range as they do. An error margin of 2 million years when you’re dating things over 2 billion years old, aka less than 2%, is absurdly accurate."

A simple sentence may be "The measurement is absurdly accurate". What is the meaning of the phrase in this context? My guess is that it negatively criticize the accuracy of the measurement.

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    Well, those of us trying to figure it out need to know the situations in which it's been used. Otherwise we're guessing. – Xanne Oct 30 '17 at 8:28
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    What Xanne means is that you need to tell us what kind of measurement was being referred to in the passage you quote. Presumably the writer thought that the degree of accuracy used was totally unnecessary for the purpose. – Kate Bunting Oct 30 '17 at 9:25
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    It's loose for 'the degree of accuracy claimed is absurd.' – Edwin Ashworth Oct 30 '17 at 10:51
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    It simply means that the accuracy is well beyond what one might expect, or what is necessary for the task at hand. For instance, if a can of beans said on the label that its contents weighed 1.34279 pounds, that would be absurdly accurate, even if the measure was correct. It's hyperbole. – Hot Licks Oct 30 '17 at 11:37
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    OTOH, describing that error margin as 2% is absurdly imprecise. It's a 0.1% error. – Barmar Oct 30 '17 at 15:10

Absurdly is modifying accurate here.

When it comes to measurement, we use units that are appropriate, for example:

As a rough guide the height to the gutter on a single storey house is about 3.3m and the height to the gutter on a two storey house is about 5.7m. - Ladderstore.com

Of course this is approximate, an actual gutter might be 3.3 metres, 20 centimeters, and 10 millimeters. But if you measured an actual gutter and found found it to be 3.3 meters, that would for all intents and purposes be an accurate measurement.

However if you measured that same gutter to the nearest nanometre that would be an absurdly accurate measurement. Why absurd? Because the measurement is above and beyond what is needed, or what has been measured before.

Absurdly accurate means, accurate to a degree that is not to be expected. Accurate beyond all reasonable expectation of how accurate a measurement should or could be.

  • I think you're conflating "accurate" and "precise" here. "Accuracy" is the correctness of a measurement, while "precision" is the degree to which it can be considered accurate, e.g. accurate to 5 decimal places. However, these two terms are frequently mixed up, so your answer does have some bearing on common usage, at least. – Aiken Drum Jan 6 '18 at 4:54
  • No I'm not. Accuracy and precision are synonymous in this context. – Gary Jan 6 '18 at 11:06
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    That sounds like a justification for conflation, not a denial of it. :) – Lawrence Jan 12 '18 at 7:54

They are praising the accuracy of modern radiometric dating and stating that, given that the objects they are dating are so old, it is absurd (as in "ridiculous") that they are able to make guesses as to the objects' ages so accurate. It is saying that the high accuracy is unexpected given the situation.


"Absurdly" in this context means "very" or "surprisingly"; if you look at Wiktionary for this word, in this situation you'll want the second definition, "to an extreme degree."

Sometimes "absurdly accurate" can also mean something like "too accurate, unnecessarily accurate" if the context is right.

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