'Spanning three centuries' -- here? Not exactly

'Spanning three centuries' -- here? Not exactly

I was minding my own business on Saturday, listening to the radio while I did, and an ad came on. I won’t name the product because I want to debunk one of its claims — an expression I’m hearing too much of.

This product’s qualities were extolled as marvels “spanning three centuries.” OK, I get it, the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first. But that doesn’t make it 300 years old — especially not when it’s a Chicago-based product.

Chicago was founded in 1837. The city won’t be even 200 years old — still a baby in international terms — until 2037, so the 300-year mark would happen in 2137.

All right, the product might be older than the city, but surely not by centuries.

We’re only¬†19 years into the twenty-first century — no, the year 2000 didn’t count, but I digress. Let’s not count those 19 years as “spanning another century” just yet; we’re a long way from the middle of the bridge there.

But that’s math? No, that’s arithmetic — or just plain counting. It helps to be Serious about that, too.

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Filed under: Expressions


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  • It all depends how they stretch the meaning of "spanning". Your post reminds me of what John Stuart Mill once wrote about 'ancient dialecticians' who insisted "upon having the meaning of a word understood before using it and the meaning of a proposition before assenting to it".

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thank you. I don't mind feeling among the ancients, at least in this case!

  • It isn't any different than Minnie Minoso's major league career spanning 5 decades--he started in 1949 and ended in 1980. Also, according to Baseball Reference, it was only 3 games in 1976 and 2 in 1980, both undoubtedly for publicity purposes. They only give him credit for 17 years; not 76 and 80.

    There must be a difference between "for" and "spanning."

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you, Jack -- indeed there must be a difference. I am glad you pick up on that and hope more people will. "Going across" (i.e., spanning) something isn't the same as "lasting for" some time.
    Meanwhile, Minnie Minoso's career brings up another point -- 1980 is the last year of the decade of the seventies. The idea in all categories is to count from 1-10, not 0-9. You've given me an idea for a new post... watch this space.

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