'Census' And 'Consensus' Do Not Mean The Same Thing

It was a single sentence in a press release. It read: "The general census is that this game is as addictive as Flappy Bird". My cries of horror could be heard from one end of Lifehacker HQ to the other.

Picture: Getty Images

This is something everybody should already know: consensus is broad agreement; a census is an official count or survey. They sound similar, but they mean entirely different things. Language has a habit of doing that.

I admit the sentence could have been worse. It might have featured a misuse of addicting. However, it's still a disgrace that someone was paid to send that sentence out. Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    Oh... what a deep topic you're skirting with.
    > language misuse (try Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic as a fun start)
    > politicizing of language (eg. discrimination = choice. Imagine if you said "how dare you choose?"). There are many groups who do this, sometimes with ulterior motives, eg. terrorist v/s freedom fighter, sharp shooter vs sniper...
    > Altering of meanings of words over time (eg. hacker, OK)
    > New words gaining popularity (eg. selfies) or creep of slang language skills (eg. I was gunna)

    Language is organic. If enough people think or say something, it can become a reality. OMGponies anyone?

      Mind Your Language sticks with what's acceptable professionally right now -- which isn't to say that usage and meanings won't change over time. They will. But that's not my main topic here.

      A funny one is rent/let; if you rent property, you pay the owner to occupy it; if you let it, some one pays you to occupy your property; my wife likes using 'rent' in both cases, so she told me that our new neighbours were renting the corner house; so I dutifully went to the corner house to see them; knock on door...flumoxed! Complete stranger opens door, denies knowledge of my friends; returned to wife and explained; she told me that they lived next door but were renting the other property. No, I said, they are letting the other property becuase some one is paying them to live there.
      Now, trivial, but imagine if an emergency had cropped up and i had to call an ambulance for my neighbour. It would have been sent to the wrong property.

        It should be 'rent out' or 'let out'. So you were right to assume that there were new tenants because your wife had used 'rent' incorrectly. But 'rent' and 'let' are interchangeable, I can equally 'let' a property as 'rent' it, meaning I'm the tenant. But if I 'let it out' or 'rent it out' then I'm the landlord. These phrasal verbs in the English language can be confusing and misleading - just look at the mess our American friends have made with the language.

    a census is an official count or survey

    Nope. A census is a count of an entire population (or close enough to). There's plenty of other 'official counts' that are not censuses.

      No, Angus is right. This is the definition -http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/census

        Hmmm, I still feel that my more nuanced definition is closer to the real world meaning

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