What does this mean?

"every fourth person is fat."

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  • Also see 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 – James Waldby - jwpat7 Sep 5 '13 at 2:31
  • It's a variant on 'One in / out of every four people is fat' (possibly preferred by some because they feel uncomfortable with the perfectly acceptable juxtaposition 'people is'). Of course, neither of these expressions is really strictly (literally) true, with Pieter's scenario - let's agree to say 'the more picturesque'. Both are accepted as idioms for the literal (if perhaps not absolutely accurate, but using rounded figures (!)) '25% of people are fat'. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 5 '13 at 6:38

Line everyone up and have them count off by fours:

one - two - three - four - one - two - etc.

Then on average, the author is claiming that every person calling out "four" is fat.

This is equivalent to, but more picturesque than, 25%.

  • 1
    Less picturesque? – user867 Sep 5 '13 at 1:48
  • Suppose we stipulate that one-quarter of a total population is fat. ("Stipulate" means "pretend is true, for purposes of this discussion.") Even in that case, it is unlikely that a randomly selected group of four people would contain exactly one fat person. In other words, you are unlikely to arrange all of the people in groups so that exactly one person in each group is fat. Thus, you cannot trust statistics quoted by someone who says things like "every fourth person is fat." Such a person is oversimplifying statistics in ways that mislead. – Jasper Oct 9 '15 at 17:09
  • @Jasper: I actually wrote "Then on average ..." in the context of this being a description of English idiom for English Learners, rather than some weird literalist interpretation of what I wrote. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 9 '15 at 17:12
  • No. I completely agree with your explanation. You have perfectly described the picture in my mind of what the expression is describing. The problem is that the usual implication of the expression is "Look around you at the nearest three people. One of the four of you is fat." And that implication is often wrong. – Jasper Oct 9 '15 at 17:16
  • Yes, yes, the explanation is a little strained in that if you lined people up in random order, it's very unlikely that every person calling "four" is fat. It would be more accurate to say that it is possible to line people up in such an order that every person calling "four" is fat and those calling "one", "two", or "three" are not. But that said, there's nothing any less technically accurate about "1 in 4" than "25%". "1 in 4" does not mean exactly 1 person out of any randomly selected group of 4, any more than 25% means exactly 25 out of any randomly selected group of 100. – Jay Oct 9 '15 at 17:50

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