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12 February 2007
figures of speech - "likely probably"

Likely and Probably locked in an epic struggle!

Now, we at Sinden.org understand what it's like in the newsroom right as you're about to break a big story. (Heck, this happens to us all the time, mostly involving Anglican chant.) You think to yourself: it might not be the greatest thing you've written, but time waits for no writer, and you've gotta get it out there for the world to read.

At Indiana University, the breaking news is that Michael McRobbie and Ora Pescovitz are finalists in the search for the next president of the university.

But something else caught my interest in this whole story.

The prediction comes as two names surfaced in an e-mail by IU chemistry professor Theodore Widlanski to some faculty members last week that interim Provost Michael McRobbie and Ora Pescovitz, associate dean of research at the IU School of Medicine, were likely probably two of the search's final candidates.

[Student author's name withheld]. UPDATE: 6:42 p.m.: Chancellor says presidential search may end within a month; names of 2 possible finalists listed in e-mail from IU professor. Indiana Daily Student. 12 February 2007. Accessed online: 12 Feb 2007 19:15.

hyperlink and emphasis added

Internet news tangent While we're at it, let's take some time to nitpick the way this news is formatted for the web. First, the "update" portion is needlessly prominent, internet users will always assume the information is current. Second, never underline anything unless it's a link. Third, why can you not link to these names? Especially if they've been in the news more than once? I mean, if you're not teaching journalism students to present their work effectively on the internet, then what are you doing?

The author of the article is a first-year student at Indiana University majoring in International Studies and Journalism. He previously attended the oddly named Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Indiana (Fishers is 140 miles southwest of Hamilton, Indiana but in southeastern Hamilton County).

Likely probably is not a construction that I had ever seen before, and before I thought too much about it, I wanted to make sure that it's not some new-fangled bit of writing that I was unaware of, so I Googled it. The first example I found of the two words being used in the same sentence (at least I think they are, because the following excerpt saves all its punctuation for last) is authored by someone who goes by the alias "minxy" on the Zeropaid forums:

rite 1 thing is 4 sure i know this was started ages ago but u need 2 take it down coz dont u think it a little disrespectful every 1 knows he is dead and stupid people like u r givin others hope that he is still alive when he is not y would ne lovin father like him decide 2 run away from his little girl n stay away 4 this long it is sooo stupid this guy u saw was probably a look alike and more than likely probably jus told u 2 piss off coz u was buggin im 4 runnin after im all the time if u r goin 2 start a disscusion on Kurt Cobain u should start 1 on his murder instead coz he didnt kill himself or fake his death y would he when his life was goin well the only trouble he had was courtney love soo think on that 1 people coz he is not alive and if ne of u belive his storys then u r jus as stupid as him !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

http://www.zeropaid.com/bbs/archive/index.php/t-15972.html

emphasis added

But this still doesn't help me know how to interpret this author's phrase: likely probably. Both of these words imply odds over 50%

If I flip this weighted coin, it will probably land on heads.

If I flip the U.S. Senate, I am likely Jim Jeffords a former Republican senator from Vermont.

Somehow we already have "They are probably the candidates" as a general idea. It's just a question of this likely business.

So in using the words together, does the author intend for likely to intensify probably?

Or does he intend for probably to be moderated by being contingent on likely? Odds are they are probably the candidates. But their probably (>50%) being the candidates is contingent on this likely (>50%), and should this likely go away (<50%) their probably would also shift (<50%). The important thing to note is that, even if this occurs, there is still a chance that they could be the candidates. And if they're not, maybe they should be.

So really, in this second scenario, the modifier is unnecessary. If they are likely probably the candidates, then they are probably the candidates. If the likely changes, so does the probably. In both cases, should we learn that they are not candidates, the sentence are false.

You cannot guard against prediction failure by padding probability statements.

But we can safely say that the next president of Indiana University will likely probably not be Kurt Cobain.

Update 13 Feb 2007 20:26 A big shoutout to the Indiana Daily Student and editor in chief Kacie Foster for linking the names of both supposed candidates to their respective biographies in the latest version of the article.

Labels: , ,

 
 
Comments:
Hi David-

Thanks for posting about the error within the story. (Google alerts me when blogs link www.idsnews.com in some form, so that's how I found your blog). We've since updated it.

Anyway, we're a learning newsroom, as you've mentioned, and certainly welcome suggestions for how to improve our Web site.

P.S.: Fishers is in the southeastern portion of Hamilton County.

-Kacie Foster
Editor in Chief
Indiana Daily Student
editor @ idsnews.com
 
Quite the analysis. I would have assumed it was merely a typo - a word choice option that the writer couldn't decide on at the time but forgot to go back and pick. You give their proofing abilities a lot of credit.
 
Haha thanks for the shout-out. We're trying a new thing this semester--having desk editors publish their own sections to the web. Before, it was a separate staffer who did that.

It took us a few weeks to get the kinks worked out, so we figured it was time to add a new trick to the site (hyperlinks)!

Thanks for helping welcome us to the year 2001.

-Kacie Foster
 

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