I am not much of a wordsmith but I hit one today at work. Someone came to ask me about a word choice used in a presentation to see if it makes sense.

“While NYSE and Nasdaq average trade sizes decline monotonically”

“I do not think it means, what you think it means.” ~Inigo Montoya

Merrian-Webster On-line dictionary
1) characterized by the use of or uttered in a monotone
2) having the property either of never increasing or of never decreasing as the values of the independent variable or the subscripts of the terms increase [monotonic functions][a monotonic sequence]

This would mean that something can’t decline monotonically. The rate of decline could be monotonically. It could decline steadily.

The person who wrote this is a Managing Director (i.e. one of the big wigs) and I think has english as a second language. Guess what is being produced in the presentation…

We are keeping copies to giggle over.

3 thoughts on “Words

  1. In math, though, “monotonically decreasing” is a common term to mean “always gets lower or stays the same, never goes up.” (Or maybe “always gets lower, never stays the same or goes up.” I’m seeing conflicting definitions in reputable web sources.)

    It’s probably not a good idea to use that in a presentation to non-technical people, since you’re totally right – anyone who’s familiar with the normal definition of monotone meaning flat will be hopelessly confused.

  2. What fyfer said. Trade sizes can decline monotonically. That means that they never get larger.

    Methinks you’re a better wordsmith than mathematician.

  3. Well, the average trade sizes *could* decline monotonically, but that would mean they could never again get larger.

    But yes, “decline steadily” is probably what he meant.

    He did use the word correctly, though, or at least in the same way that mathematicians generally use it.

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