The language curmudgeon . . .

"Exponential Increases" Growing Exponentially!

by Conrad Weisert
June 24, 2010

©2010, Information Disciplines, Inc.
This article may be circulated freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.

We hear more and more people on the radio marveling over the exponential growth of some quantity. "There's been an exponential increase in expressway traffic", a woman complained this morning. Another observed last year that the world is seeing an exponential increase in natural disasters, a truly alarming claim.

Many of the speakers have no idea what exponential increase means; they apparently think it means unexpectedly large! Furthermore, exponential can't refer to a single one-time increase; it refers to a series of increases or to continuous growth over time. Any single growth step can be either large or small, depending on the parameters. Therefore, it's meaningless to cite "an exponential increase" to make the growth sound more impressive.

Tragedy in Oklahoma

"The enormity of this is exponential!"

- Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, May 21, 2013, surveying devastating tornado damage

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Last modified May 21, 2013