Only one of two . . . well, duh!

I just heard a “financial expert” on KQED newsroom declare that Uber was “only one of two” companies to have reached the $50 billion valuation mark before going to IPO. Well, yeah, of course it was only one of two. How many could it be? Uber is only one company, so it can’t be both of the two. In fact, Facebook is the other. Even if there were fifty or a thousand of them, Uber could still only be one. What he no doubt meant was that it was one of only two. There’s a big difference. The word “only” should be placed directly in front of the number it is meant to modify, which in this case is two. A single company can only be one, of course, so there is no need to mention that it is “only” one, unless, of course, it was the only one to have reached that mark in which case he would have just said that. The item that is newsworthy is the scarcity of companies at that level, in other words, the fact that were only two in all of history. One hears this sloppiness of language all the time and it indicates a sloppiness of thought. Here’s a financial expert who is not very good with numbers, apparently. That’s not auspicious for his career hopes.

So am I just being picky and pedantic? Perhaps, but that’s not the only mistake he made in the two minutes I watched him. He then went on to say that if Uber’s drivers were designated as employees, twenty to forty percent of its costs would increase. So you want to tell us how much those costs will increase? If those costs were to increase only one hundredth of one percent then it wouldn’t be significant or worth mentioning. What he probably meant was that Uber’s costs would increase twenty to forty percent. There is a significant difference between the two. If a company’s overall costs increased by that amount, it would have a huge effect on its stock price and future profitability, not to mention the charges to the customers to offset that cost increase. If only twenty to forty percent of its costs were to increase, and by some unspecified amount, it might not be a significant impact at all. In fact, one might reasonably infer that the other sixty to eighty percent of its costs were expected to decrease, resulting in improved performance. Investor class action lawsuits have been filed and won over such misleading declarations.

People just don’t know how to talk anymore. It’s depressing.