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I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

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05 April 2012

Brief boobs #6: How many is the size of France?

Today’s Financial Times (usually one of the best-edited papers) prints a description of an article about the urbanization of the developing world which says:
“Beyondbrics: The Great Migration: This year alone, the population of the world’s cities will grow by the size of France.”
     The “size of France” is 210,000 square miles, or 543,000 square kilometres, in terms of its land surface. By mapped area it is 213,000 square miles, or 551,000 square kilometres, which includes all the lakes, ponds and large glaciers which might become “land” if global warming continues for another few thousand years, and if it does not result in any countervailing loss of coastal area due to rises in the sea level.
     Are these the figures the sub-editors at the Financial Times meant us to think about when they talked of the rise in the world’s urban population? They don't seem large enough. Even the highest of them, 551,000 is not really significant when set against the total population of the world's cities.
     Perhaps they were not talking about metropolitan France, but instead about France as a state entity, in which case the figures are 260,000 square miles, or 675,000 square kilometres, which includes all colonies and dependencies, parts and pendicles.
     But even that sounds too little. If you turn to the article to which that headline refers, you will see that the figure they are trying to describe is 65 million. This, of course, is not the “size” of France, but the population of the country. What an odd mistake to make for a paper so accustomed to statistics as the FT! I was always taught at school not to multiply apples by oranges. I know the FT is typeset on Apple computers and printed on orangey-coloured paper (it is not pink), but is that any excuse?
     No, it is not. Perhaps the subs thought that to say “the population of the world’s cities will grow by the population of France” would sound repetitive, or be too long for the space allocated to that headline. Maybe they thought nobody would know what the population of France is. But who knows what the “size” of France is?
      So let the expert (me) try to re-write the text more clearly:
“Beyondbrics: The Great Migration: In 2012, the population of the world’s cities will grow by 65 million.”
     Simple, if you know how.

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