這讓我想起二十幾年前，美國人喝可樂，有人在可樂罐中發現針尖。大公司的老總接受 CNN 訪問，很有自信的說道：「發生這種問題的機會只有百萬分之一。」
英文用「not in a million」來形容發生的機率很低。行嗎？
我聽了 CNN 的報導，心想，這位老總完了。果不其然，他很快就為自己的失言道歉、辭職。假使一天賣五百萬瓶可樂，百萬分之一的機會，豈不表示有五瓶可樂罐裏藏針尖。未免太可怕了吧！
In August 2012, a typhoon hit Shanghai. The mayor said he would "try to come up with every means to prevent any person from dying from the typhoon".
Natural disasters cannot be prevented by empty talk, or by "trying to come up with every means". Instead, one should take instant action. This story reminded me of an incident that took place some twenty years ago. An American found a tiny needle in a can of Coca-Cola. When asked in an interview with CNN for the odds of such an incident occurring, the CEO of Coca-Cola said with confidence: "One in a million". In English, "one in a million" coveys improbability. But one cannot help wondering whether "one in a million" is acceptable in this case.
When I saw the CNN report, I thought to myself, "This executive is doomed." Sure enough, he had to apologise and resign. Given that Coca-Cola sells five million bottles a day, "one in a million" means five bottles a day will contain needles!
If you do not have sufficient knowledge about statistics, you should refrain from quoting numbers or making willful comments. Aren't we falling far short of international standards if we judge our society by using the frequencies of how numbers are misquoted as an indicator?
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (16 January, 2014).
January 27, 2014