An off topic disscussion about the term average

That is the nature of “average”. The other half will likewise have to be above average. If any “average” Mate actually exists is an open question, but he would be rear in that case. (The wonders of statistics)

A truism is a statement that is so widely accepted, or so evident and factual, that questioning its validity is considered foolish. A truism does not need to be supported by any other evidence. It is accepted as “true.”

I believe that what we’re dealing with here is in fact a half-trusim, defined by myself* as a statement that appears to hold universally true, but is in fact only a rough approximation. It would be true if the distribution curve was symmetrical, but we cannot reasonably expect that to be the case.

I would actually expect well over 50% of mates to be below average. There are several control mechanisms in place to prevent the dimmest and laziest ones from graduating or making it up the hawsepipe**, effectively truncating the low end of the distribution curve. Meanwhile, the other end is made up of brilliant individuals destined for greatness, and highly experienced sailors whose particular skill set make them ill suited for the captain’s position. These outliers should skew the average skill level well above that of your garden variety Mate.

A proper truism would be “50% of mates are below the median”, but then who the fuck would say that in polite conversation?

(*) The Offspring’s more commonly accepted definition, while catchy, never made much sense to me.
(**) At least in some parts of the world.

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Well, OK, strictly speaking you are right of course, maybe. My argument here would be that the definition of truism is a little hazy. Basically I used the term truism because I should not need to defend it in this context, doing so is tedious. The stronger term axiomatic on the other hand implies more mathematical rigor, that term would not apply.

I use the term “half the mates are below average” at work from time to time to discourage poorly written instructions, bad procedures and hand-waving.

EDIT: It’s seen here as well. An argument is made that “a good seaman should be able to…” fill in the blank. My thought is any plan that requires good seamanship is questionable at best, should be dumbed down if possible.

EDIT2: Another defense occurred to me. The definition of the term average. In common, casual usage average is most commonly used meaning “mean” but by dictionary it’s this:




noun: average ; plural noun: averages

a number expressing the central or typical value in a set of data, in particular the mode, median, or (most commonly) the mean, which is calculated by dividing the sum of the values in the set by their number.

“the housing prices there are twice the national average”
synonyms: mean, median, mode, midpoint, center; More
norm, standard, rule, par;
the general run

“the price was low compared with the average of the past 25 years”

  • an amount, standard, level, or rate regarded as usual or ordinary.

"they take about thirty minutes on average "

synonyms: normally, usually, ordinarily, generally, generally speaking, in general, for the most part, in most cases, as a rule, typically; More

overall, by and large, on the whole, on balance

“on average, I suppose we watch a couple of hours of television a night”

the apportionment of financial liability resulting from loss of or damage to a ship or its cargo.

  • reduction in the amount payable under an insurance policy, e.g. in respect of partial loss.


adjective: average

  1. constituting the result obtained by adding together several quantities and then dividing this total by the number of quantities.

“the average temperature in May was 64°F”
synonyms: mean, median, medial, middle
“the average temperature in May was 4°C below normal”

I think it was Admiral King who said that a manoeuvre should be planned so as to make extraordinary shiphandling unnecessary.

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I could claim cultural differences, since we have only one word for “average” in Norwegian (“gjenomsnitt” - literally “cross-section”) with no notes of ambiguity. Additionally, I could question the veracity of your source, since it lists several terms as synonymous while in fact they are not, especially for purposes of semantic diatribe. However, I’ve been warned about taking my own jokes too seriously, so I guess we can let it rest there… :stuck_out_tongue:

Does it refer to the mean, the median, the mode, or something else? And if it refers to one of those, what do you call the others?

Mean: Gjennomsnitt
Median: Median (with funky pronunciation)
Mode:: Modus or Typetall

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So, out of curiosity, if some one asks if someone had a busy day, in Norway they can’t say “about average” because that seems to imply some statistical analysis was done. So is there a single word to describe when the busyness was typical for a normal day?

Well, it’s a precise term that gets tossed around with zero reverence, so I guess you could. We’d say “gjennomsnittsblondine” or “gjennomsnittstur” without implying any level of precision, and also use the term ironically quite often.

In the given example, it does sound a bit idiomatically off. “Sånn passe”, roughly translated to “about the right amount” gets used much like “about average” does in English.

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We got millenials because every kid was told they were “above average” growing up…


That’s weird, I was always taught that “average” was exactly the same as mean (add them up then divide).

Also, here’s a meme I made to remember the terms:


If we are just talking about substandard mates/engineers, excuse me while I whip this out.

Average to me is barely functioning and requiring constant attention/supervision.

Serviceable is above average but not by much. They can handle the paperwork, be trusted in open ocean, and may not have a fuck up every damn day.

Competent is “on the ball” and what I define as a professional. Actively looking to learn the vessel’s systems, intricacies, and idiosyncrasies. Asks the right questions and speaks up when they don’t know the answer. I am perfectly comfortable with competent in just about any traffic situation and trust the information given me when we are working as a bridge team.

Crackerjack is the holy grail. The mate/engineer you keep asking why they aren’t sailing way above their license. You reflexively want to mentor them and then sail off into the sunset with them turning the wrenches, squashing crew beefs, and measuring the drapes in your office for their eventual trick at the wheel.

All others deemed below average get thrown back into the wood chipper with a litany of paper to back up the firing.

Just my two cents


Holy shit; that is epic!

‘Average’ in normal use is an idiom that means typical, common or usual. It has a technical definition of ‘the sum of values divided by the number of values.’

A mate can’t be above or below an average. ‘Average’ is a number being compared to other numbers. (What numerical value is being compared?) It only makes sense as an idiom.

To say ‘50% of mates are below average’ is to use the word as both an idiom and a mathematical expression simultaneously.

The whole discussion is ridiculous.


Of course we can assign a scalar value to a mate’s performance. It’s called the fuckuptitude constant, defined as:

Cf = LogN( ( Is + (Ce / 1.000.000) + Ho) / Csn)

Is = Number of SMS infractions per year
Ce = Cumulative cost of errors made yearly
Ho = Hassle from the office, expressed in yearly number of calls.
Csn = National safety constant, a high number in western countries, not such a high number in Tunisia

Ya think?!


What unit is Ce measured in? USD? Zimbabwean Dollars? It seems the sum of SMS infractions and number of calls from the office could be either important or not depending on the Ce unit.

It also seems that Ce and Csn should have an inverse relationship. Venezuela would have an increasing Ce while Csn decreases.

Zimbabwean mates are certainly superior to everyone although Venezuelan mates are improving at ever increasing rates! It’s unfortunate that Norwegian mates have stagnated so badly. Without a doubt they are below average. Can’t argue with the maths.


Depends on the context, the average Joe is not average and is not named Joe.

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And likely have a trophy to prove it. . . .


I would say not totally ridiculous. I wish I had said this:

To say ‘50% of mates are below average’ is to use the word as both an idiom and a mathematical expression simultaneously.

which sounds clever instead of calling it an truism.