Example with a context:

We should conclude by saying that there is no law that says that a database is always more useful or efficient if the tables have a high degree of normalization. These issues are more subjective than objective and must be dealt with as a design issue on an ad hoc basis. In fact, it appears that the best procedure for good database design is to mix eight parts intuition and experience with two parts theory. Hopefully, our discussion of normalization has given you a general feeling for the issues involved and will provide a good jumping-off place if you decide to study these somewhat complicated issues in greater depth.

What does that really mean? Is that a play on words or something?

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    Since you have "8 parts X" and "2 parts Y", you have 8+2, which is 10, parts total, 8/10, or 80%, of which is X, and 2/10, or 20%, of which is Y. In other words, he is saying database optimization is 80% art and 20% science. The part of database performance you can control through application of generic rules is relatively small. – Dan Bron Dec 12 '14 at 15:13
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    This is basically another way to mention the 80-20 rule. – Damkerng T. Dec 12 '14 at 16:42

In fact, it appears that the best procedure for good database design is to mix eight parts intuition and experience with two parts theory.

It means that when you design a database you should give preference to your own intuition and experience - and to a big extent - 80% (8 out of 10 parts). You should also take into account your theoretical knowledge of database design, but on a much smaller scale: 20% (2 parts out of 10).

In other words, intuition and experience are more important in practical database design than theoretical knowledge, and the approximate ratio of their importance is 80% vs 20%.

Here, it's clear from the context that the total number of "parts" implied is ten: 8 + 2 = 10, and our most common numeral system is based on 10.

In some expressions with the word "parts" the implied total number might differ from 10:

We went out on a Friday night and returned three parts drunk.
To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.

Here, the implied total is 4, because three-quarters is a fraction familiar to the English ear (see here). The meanings are "we returned 75% drunk" and "who fear love are 75% dead".

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    So, basically the author just uses the concept of "scale of one to ten" to make his point. I gotcha. – Michael Rybkin Dec 12 '14 at 15:12
  • @CookieMonster - yes, he implies that the total number of parts is 10. – CowperKettle Dec 12 '14 at 15:16
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    Re your point about the implied total number not always being 10, I suspect most native speakers would routinely "normalise" OP's example to 4 parts intuition - contrasting with 1 part theory, which as this related ELU question indicates, is assumed to be 1 part of something other than theory if the actual number or nature of the "other" parts is unspecified. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '14 at 15:35
  • @FumbleFingers - thanks for the clarification! I've been wondering how many total parts were implied in "three parts drunk" ever since I met the expression in "The Moon and Sixpence". The "one missing part" hypothesis makes it clearer. – CowperKettle Dec 12 '14 at 15:51
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    As I pointed out in my ELU answer, when there's an implicit "unspecified" single part, there are nearly always 3 or 9 specified parts. You'll rarely see four parts drunk, or six parts dead, for example. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '14 at 16:00

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