February 23, 2011

I Am One Hundred and Ten Percent Sure that This Is the Stupidest Sentence You Will Read All Day

Let’s stop using the expression “one hundred and [n additional amount] percent,” all right? Let’s stop saying things like, “I’m a hundred and fifty percent sure that my boyfriend is cheating on me,” and, “Though they lost, the baseball team gave it one hundred and ten percent.” This expression is no good.

First, note that this expression is hyperbole because you can’t have more than one hundred percent of these things. If you have the highest possible amount of something, you still only have one hundred percent of it. Why? Because “percent” literally means “one part in every hundred.” So “one hundred percent” means essentially “one hundred parts of one hundred parts,” or “all parts.” Because there can only be one hundred individual percents, being “one hundred and ten percent sure” about something is kind of like thinking that if wearing one condom is 99% effective, then wearing two condoms is 198% effective.

But I get that this phrase is not meant to be interpreted literally. That’s fine. My problem with this expression is that it is, ironically, not expressive. First, when someone says, “Timmy gave one hundred and ten percent out there on the field,” I think, “Why didn’t he give one hundred and fifteen percent, or one hundred and twenty percent?” The speaker could have gone infinitely higher in expressing Timmy’s effort, and I’m left wondering why the speaker settled on the arbitrary percentage that he chose. The expression thus loses persuasive and expressive force because it is distracting—while the speaker continues with his comments, my mind is careening down the railway of cacological speculation.

Second, and more importantly, this phrase makes me think of those classless troglodytes that get paternity tests on the Maury show. These jokers are invariably “one hundred and [insert some arbitrary additional amount] percent sure” that Tyson is/isn’t the father of eight month old Vanessa. When you say this expression, I think of you as one of those Maury guests, which is neither flattering to you, nor helpful to whatever point you’re trying to emphasize. So, unless you think evoking a comparison to deadbeat parents is useful for your claim, forego this phrase.

Of course, percentages over one hundred can have useful meanings in more scientific or mathematical contexts where they are not merely idiomatic phrases. For instance, a doctor might find that a patient’s T-cells have “increased two hundred percent,” meaning they have tripled. But the chief difference here is that the doctor is contemplating a change in amount of something by more than one hundred percent rather than a raw amount that is more than one hundred percent of itself.

And that’s it, folks. Now that we’re clear on this, let’s delete this idiom from our vernacular and leave it exclusively in the capable hands of scientists, mathematicians, and putative fathers.


  1. I'm one hundred and ten percent sure that "double-bagging" results in more Maury show guests.

  2. I think children, more often than adults, understand the lack of expressiveness of this expression: "Oh yeah? Well she likes me one hundred and a thousand percent!" "Oh yeah? Well she likes ME one hundred and an infinity percent!" "She likes me one hundred and an infinity times an infinity percent!"

  3. ..."cacological speculation"...