The many meanings of great

When lecturing, I often let enthusiasm get the best of me. Interesting theoretical results and strange/noticeable empirical results are declared “great!” whether or not those results are normatively great things.

For example, one time I was showing my students a chart comparing child mortality to per capita income level. The data cluster very tightly around a negatively sloped line. I exclaimed, “this relationship is really great!” to which I heard gasps from my students. Red faced, I explained to students that I meant there seems to be a high correlation between income levels and child mortality and this is important because even if you don’t give a hoot about levels of GDP, you might care about the health of children and their mothers.


Anyway, these charts showing what’s going on in the mortgage market are great(!) in much the same way.

3 thoughts on “The many meanings of great”

  1. Normativity, shnormativity!

    “Great” can be an aesthetic judgment. A theory or result can be beautiful.

    It could also be the expression of some emotion, the expression of some subjective exaltation. And who are we to judge and probe the depths of your psyche?

    I say, “great” away and never mind the haters!

  2. (mob chanting)
    2! 4! 6! 8!
    Homer Simpson’s really great!
    Great meaning “large” or “immense,”
    We mean it in the pejorative sense!

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