The moment that I hear or see a sentence starting with a ‘group’ noun, I know that I am about to object to its stereotypy:
and so on, almost invariably preface a statement which is going to have so many exceptions that it is demonstrably false.
This is almost as reliable an indicator of falsehood as the words fact and literally, which have curiously reversed their meanings in the last few years, especially on the Internet. Six facts about… is the standard way to introduce six unfounded opinions, and I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who are literally gutted, or literally anything else which is really figurative.
We are each only too keen to point out our individuality, how we are not simply one of the masses, and have our own likes, views, and opinions. “I’m not a typical American/student/mother/etc.” we assert when others try to force us into some common mould.
But when it comes to respecting, let alone celebrating, the individuality of others, we appear incapable, and can only talk in glib stereotypes. If I can generalise without losing meaning, it appears most common and most inaccurate among politicians, the press, and on social media. Economic figures and demography thrive on averages which are often carefully crafted to represent an ideology or opinion, rather than the reality of many.
Averages, like most statistical tools, are so easily and commonly abused. Take the following numbers:
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100
Their average is 50, but none of the ten values is even remotely close to that average. Consider
4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 80, 90, 100
whose average is 32. Because the frequency distribution of these numbers is so far from the ‘normal’ distribution, their average is as meaningful as the average colour of Monet’s field of poppies above.
When we use a stereotype of a group, the best that can happen is that we fall into an averaging trap. If we are unlucky or plain prejudiced, we may find ourselves accusing the 4-11 group of being 80-100.
One solution to every glib stereotype is to qualify our ‘group’ nouns with a quantifier, such as many or most, which begs rebuttal in the realisation that humans are very seldom all anything.