Having had the television on regularly over the last week due to the weather in our area, I have been exposed to a great deal more of the idiot box’s idiocy than I normally am in a full month (I watch very little television). I’ve noted mentally each time someone said a bit of lunacy that should never be said. Now, I’ve reached my limit and am going to rant about it.
Use of ‘and’ in numbers
There are rules in language that come into play specifically when one speaks of numbers. For instance, one precedes numeric words with ‘negative’ or ‘minus’ to indicate a number below zero. Which word you use depends on context (e.g., temperature or algebra). Use of the word ‘percent’ after a number is yet an additional qualifier we use in language to indicate a specific numerical meaning. Another example: One uses the word ‘and’ to indicate a decimal point. This most commonly can be seen when speaking of currency. It is that word with which I am taking exception.
Far too many television personalities promote ignorance by misusing the English language in this regard. One does not say the year is two-thousand-and-seven. That phrase actually equals 2000.7, not 2007. Likewise, one does not say one-hundred-thousand-three-hundred-and-forty-five people were displaced by an earthquake. That would mean 130,000.45 people had to move. Has anyone seen forty-five-hundredths of a person? I mean a living person, thank you. No, of course you haven’t. The most distressing use of it in that manner comes from meteorologists. Here in Texas, it’s not unusual to hear someone say the temperature will reach one-hundred-and-three. That equates to a high of 100.3, not 103.
Use of the word ‘and’ in such cases is incorrect. It’s also offensive. This linguistic gaffe becomes even more unacceptable when used by newscasters, scientists, and other figures of authority. It promotes illiteracy and demonstrates a complete disregard for proper English. And I despise it!
Misuse of ‘a’ and ‘an’
There’s a simple reason we have ‘a’ and ‘an’ to perform the same function. ‘An’ ends with a consonant to separate it from a word beginning with a vowel sound. I tire of seeing and hearing it used based on the noun it modifies when adverbs or adjectives separate the two. For example, this is valid: I purchased a car. This is not valid: I purchased a indigo car. People use the latter form assuming ‘a’ is valid because it modifies ‘car,’ and car obviously begins with a consonant. That logic is flawed. ‘An’ should be used to break up the double-vowel problem created by “a indigo.” That’s what ‘an’ is for: to separate the indefinite article from words that begin with a vowel sound. The proper use is based solely on the word following the article, not necessarily the noun it addresses. People who use it in that manner demonstrate a lack of grammar skills only to be expected in preschoolers.
Humidity and air temperature
With the recent ice storms in North Texas, you can safely assume much of my television time has been spent with the boob tube quietly spewing weather information. I’ve found little of it useful, but I have found some of it so entirely false and misleading as to be a complete betrayal of good science. Repeatedly on the Weather Channel I have listened to some clueless woman talk about colds and flus. Part of her lecture includes a section about dry air in the home and how it affects the sinuses and throat, and how it might even promote a susceptibility to cold-weather ailments. So far so good, right?
Then she defenestrates science entirely by saying heating the air makes it drier. Um, no it doesn’t! Heating the air can manipulate the relative humidity just as cooling it can do the same, but what it does not do is dry out the air. Warm air is capable of holding more moisture than cold air. That’s because cold air is denser, so logically one can conclude it has less space for water vapor than does warmer air. That is why relative humidity is called relative humidity: it’s a measure of moisture in the air compared to the temperature. Consider that 100% humidity at 100° F (38° C) does not mean the same level of moisture represented by 100% humidity at 32° F (0° C). That is because, again, relative humidity depends on the temperature. Since colder air cannot hold as much water as warmer air, that percentage can be deceptive because they present an equal picture that in truth is quite unequal. Since cold air holds less humidity, winter is always drier. The colder the air, the less humidity.
Consider this: The true measure of humidity is the dew point. That is the temperature at which dew forms because the air can not hold additional moisture, so increasing water vapor condenses instead of becoming humidity in the atmosphere. Got that so far? Good. The dew point associated with 100% humidity at 100° F (38° C) is 100° F (38° C). The dew point associated with 100% humidity at 32° F (0° C) is 32° F (0° C). As you can plainly make out, the difference between the two 100% humidity levels is quite extreme, yet the percentages indicate an equal amount of humidity in both cases. That’s because, as I said, relative humidity is a measure of the water vapor in the air as compared to the temperature. It is not, however, a direct measure of humidity. That’s why it’s called “relative humidity”… because the measurement is relative to the temperature instead of being absolute.
Given all of this, you can see why heating the air would indeed drop the relative humidity, but it would not change the dew point. Therefore, it is incorrect to claim home heating makes the air drier when it does no such thing. Winter air is much drier than other seasons because it is colder. Using her logic, summers everywhere should come and go with the lowest humidity levels possible. For people like me living in humid regions like North Texas, making that claim would get you laughed out into the street. We can assure you that high humidity levels in summer are far more severe than high humidity levels in winter. For this woman to infer in such an authoritative manner that heating the air makes it drier is to do a tremendous disservice to the station’s audience. It is to distort science with falsehoods and misrepresentations. I am shocked such a thing is used so regularly by a station that claims to focus on weather.