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July 15, 2011 1:47 AM   Subscribe

Why does the New York Times write "unemployment rose to 10% from 5%" rather than "unemployment rose from 5% to 10%"? I trip over this formulation and have to go back and reread the clause every time. Is the goal to increase clarity of avoid confusion in some way? How so? This doesn't seem to be standard American English, and it's certainly not usual in the UK.

Here's an example from the NYT ("And the overnight Euribor rate — what banks in Europe charge each other for short-term loans — more than doubled over the last week, to 1.47 percent from 0.6 percent, as banks within the euro zone have become more reluctant to lend to each other").

And here's a Guardian example ("According to the Halifax House Price Index, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this month, the average cost of a house in the UK rose from £121,642 in December to £123,451 in January") and The Economist Style Guide ("But sales rose from 5m to 6m").
posted by caek to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It depends how you want to frame it, doesn't it?

(The first goes for scary then context, the other for context then scary.)
posted by devnull at 2:00 AM on July 15, 2011

It's one of the persnickety rules of NYT style, like their insistence upon calling everyone mister.
posted by brina at 2:00 AM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster: devnull, it's not an issue of framing. It's a style decision at the NYT that is consistently enforced whether news is good or bad.

brina, that's my suspicion, so I guess my question is: what are their reasons for breaking with convention? I feel like I must be missing something.
posted by caek at 2:07 AM on July 15, 2011

Best answer: My first thought is that if you saw something that said "unemployment rose from 5% to 10%", you might just make the mistake of reading it as "unemployment rose by 5 to 10 percent", which is a very different assertion. Reversing the order to high-then-low, people won't make that mistake when reading quickly.

Secondly, if you were to selectively quote only the first part of the sentence, or copy and paste it carelessly, or if it were printed such that the '10%' was at the end of a line, there'd be much less chance of the information becoming mangled.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:11 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would not be surprised if it's a decision as mechanical (and misguided) as 10% is new/news while 5% is old/ not news. News is presented first and its context later.
posted by tavegyl at 2:17 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with le morte de bea arthur, and would even go as far as to say that it is ambiguous even if you don't misread "from" as "by". You can, after all, say "Unemployment rose 5%", meaning "by 5%". It's kind of casual style, not formal, but it's grammatical in my variety of English at least. And you can say "5% to 10%" meaning "somewhere between 5 and 10%". So "Unemployment rose 5% to 10%" could theoretically mean "rose by somewhere between 5 and 10%", even though that is not the most likely reading.
posted by lollusc at 2:18 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: le morte de bea arthur's first hunch is correct. Here's the explanation from an old NYT "Talk to the Newsroom" feature:
Q. Please explain the now established use of "to ___ from ___" in expressing changes in numerical values, for example. It's something I've noticed over the last few years, but perhaps not before. That is not a very easy way to scan the line, at least to my mind, as it is not progressive in time. Is there some overriding reason to do it this way?

After all, the movie is not called "To Eternity From Here."

— George Heibel

A. Some of the questions I've received were predictable, but I was surprised to get at least three on this topic — including one other with the same "To Eternity From Here" line.

For readers who haven't noticed, The Times often uses this locution when describing an increase (or decrease): "The average price of a bushel of widgets on the Chicago Widget Exchange rose to $45, from $42." Some readers object to this phrasing, saying that logic and normal usage argue for the reverse: "The average price of widgets rose from $42 to $45."

The reason for our practice is to prevent the reader, even momentarily, from mistakenly thinking that we are referring to a range — that is, thinking that the price of widgets rose by amounts ranging from $42 to $45. I admit it's a fine point, but any clarity we can offer in stories dealing with numbers is an advantage.

Here's the relevant entry in our stylebook:
When paired numbers denote a range, do not use a comma: Fees will rise by $3 to $20. Insert a comma when the numbers do not represent a range: Fees will rise by $3, to $20. When reporting a rise or a fall, give the to figure first (in spite of logic), to prevent misreading as a range: In a week, the stock rose to $25 from $17.75. And: The price fell to $850 from $998.
If you've got an Amazon account with at least one purchase, you can confirm this and other style questions by searching inside the stylebook online.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:30 AM on July 15, 2011 [19 favorites]

My bet is that the headline of such a story would be "Unemployment Rate Reaches 10%."

Their structure, "unemployment rose to 10%..." provides the most succinct, soundbite-able direct quote.
posted by mauvest at 3:31 AM on July 15, 2011

Thanks, Rhaomi, I'd always wondered about that. Good to know there's a reason, even if I don't entirely agree with it.
posted by troywestfield at 6:00 AM on July 15, 2011

Well, it is standard American English, whether it sounds odd to your ears or not.

That said, the NYT has a style manual, as discussed above, which dictates this syntax.
posted by dfriedman at 6:53 AM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster:
Well, it is standard American English
Not according to AP, the Washington Post, Slate or the producers of From Here to Eternity.
posted by caek at 7:40 AM on July 15, 2011

caek: From Here to Eternity

Although in that context, here to eternity is indeed a range.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a US American and I hate this too.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 10:01 AM on July 15, 2011

I'm a US American and I love this. It's clear. If the purpose of a newspaper is to provide information, then clarity is a virtue.
posted by exphysicist345 at 1:48 PM on July 16, 2011

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