Winning the lottery and other myths and misconceptions: Part 2

As it turns out, the winning Powerball ticket was bought in New Jersey. Those of us here in Chicago who are ripping up our tickets this morning can console ourselves with the knowledge that we only had a 1 in 175 million chance of winning and the hope that some of that money will help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

As promised (or warned), we’re going to look at some common myths and misconceptions today. The first one is something we hear every day and may even say it ourselves. Someone asks if you’d rather go for Mexican food or Italian, to which you respond, “I could care less”. Which is probably true, because there probably are things about which you care less. It’s not the same, though as “I couldn’t care less”, which is probably what you meant to say. It may even be what you’re thinking right now.

We seem to use words indiscriminately, based upon what I have no idea.  We studied vocabulary back when I had to walk to school, uphill both ways.  It was a one-room school house and they didn’t even teach history yet. But we knew how to speak precisely, communicate effectively and say exactly what we meant.

You might be tickled if I said that you were the “penultimate” in your profession. You wouldn’t feel so ticklish if you Google it and found out that “penultimate” means next to last. Which is one better than “ultimate”, which means the last one made. If you have the ultimate smart phone right now, that just means it will be obsolete in 6 weeks. The penultimate phone was obsolete 6 weeks ago.

If a population was “decimated” by a disease, only 1 in 10 people died.  Not great, but better than everyone dying.

“Disinterested” is not synonymous with “uninterested”. You want to have your dispute settled by a disinterested third party. It might not go as smoothly if the third party is also uninterested.

A cure for aids or poverty would not be a “panacea”.  To qualify for panacea status, the cure has to be for EVERYTHING. Yes, even that.

Something is “literally” happening only if it is actually happening. (Sorry Mr. V.P) A man can literally dance with joy, but he can not literally have steam coming out of his ears.  Well, he could, but he shouldn’t start any long books.

If you have “chronic” pain, it means you have suffered with it for a long time. The pain can be very mild and still be chronic. If it gets very sharp from time to time, that would be bouts of acute pain.

The “10 Items or Less” sign at checkout is incorrect. “Less” is a reference to things that can’t be counted, like beer.  You may have less beer in your mug than the guy in front of you, but he may have fewer items in his cart.  The same is true for “more than” and “greater than”.

Enormity is not the same as enormousness.  You can describe Chris Christie’s enormousness, but enormity refers to great evil, like John Boehner (I like to pronounce it like boner).

When you read the word “instant”, that was an instant. Oatmeal that cooks in 10 seconds isn’t instant.

The last of the most misused words with which I will burden you today is “refute”, which means disprove. To rebut is to offer an argument. My friend, Jeff has been arguing with me all day about probability and return on investment.  My rebuttal is that you can’t apply investment terminology to gambling and other forms of chance. Lottery tickets and a trip to Las Vegas may be a whimsical part of your retirement portfolio, but there’s no way you can compute a realistic return on investment.

My calculator won’t even let me compute the ROI on a $2 ticket that returns $338 Million.  Does it matter if I bought 2 tickets for $4?  Do I figure it on the 20-year payout, the lump sum or the after-tax amount?

So, Jeffrey, you can offer cleverly-worded rebuttals all day long, but you can not refute probability.  Not even Jim Cramer can do that.

(This was fun, expect Part 3 tomorrow)

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