Does attitude really equal 100%?

Yes, it's coincidence

Yes, it's coincidence

Every few weeks, this bit of motivational excrement does the rounds on twitter (I saw it here, but it comes around from all sorts of sources).

For a start, what's with the per cents? Per cents of what? You can't just take a number that's close to a hundred and stick a % on it and make sense - especially when it's easy to find words - such as 'bullshit' (103) or 'poppycock' (120) - that come out as more than 100.

More to the point, there's no reason to expect a word with a score of 100 to have anything to do with success. There are loads of them, from the really unwise (asbestos, quicklime, headbutts, firebombing, tetanus) to the educationally ill-advised (bandwagons, gobbledegook, haranguing, inanities, whiskey) to the absurd (piggybacks, dinginess, masochism, semaphore) and some - a few - that might work: numeracy, analysis, colleagues, culture, discipline.

Misapprehensions and mischievousness, meanwhile, both give you 200.

Some actual maths

If you pick letters at random from the alphabet, you'd expect each letter to score about 13.5 points, with a variance of 56.25 (a standard deviation of 7.5). So, an average seven-letter word would score around 94 or 95 points, with a variance of 393.75 - or a standard deviation of 19.8, meaning that a score of 100 is not at all unusual ($z = \frac{-5.5}{19.8} = -0.277$). It's not at all unusual for an 8-letter word, either, with a mean of 108 and a standard deviation of about 21 ($z = 0.377$).

This relies on the assumption that letters in words are uniformly distributed, which they're not (E, for example, shows up more often than X) - I'd expect the mean value to be slightly lower than 13.5, and the standard deviation to be a bit bigger - but in any event, 100 points is not an unusual score for a word of moderate length.

This awfully (100) selective (100) use of words is not reputable (100), according to this researcher (100) - it's inapplicable (100) and therefore (100) discredited (100) and deserves someone immature (100) like me to excoriate (100) it.


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.


4 comments on “Does attitude really equal 100%?

  • christianp

    I decided to do some computation (147) on my big dictionary (118) file. The mean score for all words is 104.9, and the standard deviation is 35.5. I should weight the words by how often they’re used, which would bring the mean down. Anyway, 100 is not at all unusual (109).
    (By the way, the biggest score I found was ‘superstitiously’ (248) and the mean score of words in this comment is 47.9)

    • Colin

      I’ve got ‘counterrevolutionary’ for 291.

  • GiromCalica


    23 + 8 + 9 + 19 + 11 + 5 + 25 = 100

    • Colin

      I did mention whiskey in the article, but good find all the same!

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