I have pet peeves concerning several common misuses of language (and I”m sure that some who know me are annoyed by common mistakes that I make), especially when they are institutionallized in official writings. Lately it has been getting to me that police officers (at least where I live) like to put things like this in their official reports: “I observed a silver sedan proceeding along the highway at a high rate of speed.” It’s that last phrase that gets me “high rate of speed.”
Why I Think it’s Wrong
The thing is that speed is a rate. It’s like looking on the side panel of your macaroni-and-cheese box and instead of seeing “high-altitude instructions,” seeing “instructions for high elevations of altitude.” Or instead of hearing a sports reporter talk to a long-distance runner, the reporter claims to be talking to a “long-length-of-distance runner.”
Why I Forgive Them
Of course the confusion here is understandable since the whole idea of rates is a slippery one, one which took civilized humanity thousands of years to nail down in any satisfying way. The study of rates is a major component of what we now call The Calculus, or more commonly Calculus, or even Calc. The mathematically rigorous theory of (among other things) rates is known (for–I can only assume–some historical reasons with which I am not familiar) by the confusingly overloaded term Analysis.
I doubt that many of our men and women in blue have taken much (mathematical) Analysis, and so I forgive them. But if any police officer happens to read this post please, please the next time you see a silver sedan, write in your report simply that it was “traveling at a high speed.” Thank you.