## Wednesday, January 13, 2010

### Every single light was red!

Have you ever felt this way? I have. Today.

Coming to work this morning it seemed like every light was red, starting with the one nearest my house. It was letting only 3 cars through on each cycle instead of the 15-18 it normally allows. Of course that meant we all had a long time to sit and think through our plans for the morning commute.

I decided to count the total signals on my normal route. There are 14. Of those 14, 11 were RED when I arrived.

Lucky me! I got time to think about the subject of my blog, I had time for a nap, time to plan my kitchen remodel, time to compose a note to my mother-in-law, etc.

Regarding this blog, though, I'm now interested in the words we use to describe vague quantities. Like those red lights. What's the most accurate phrase (mathematically speaking) for 11/14ths red lights?

I think these all might qualify:

All the lights were red!! (said in outrage, no one expects you to mean every single one ...)
Nearly every light was red!
Red lights to the max !
Many of the lights were red!
The bulk of the lights were red!

Majority of the lights were red!
The consensus of the lights was "Red"
There was a preponderance of red lights.
The streets were teeming with red lights.
The lion's share of the lights were red
There were (was) a whole bunch of red lights.

Most of the lights were red
A lot of the lights were red

Zillions of red lights!
Countless red lights! (not really true, because I counted them ...)

Umpteen lights were red (I like this slang word. It's more fun than saying eleven out of fourteen ...)

The following don't convey the appropriate fraction of redness

Several of the lights were red
Some of the lights were red
Occasional red light
A couple of red lights
Sundry red lights

This kind of numerically-representative talk is part of what we teach kids in math class. Except Umpteen isn't in the curriculum. Yet.

Umpteen falls into a category that Wikipedia calls Infinite and Fictitious Numbers. It means "innumerable but many", "a relatively large but unspecified number, employed for comic effect."

Yep, there were umpteen red lights this morning on my way to work!

NOTE: This is a sculpture in London, not a real traffic light!