Pet Peeve of the Day: Exponents

How often do you see people using the words “exponentially greater” to me “very much greater”?
Pretty often.
Of course, it’s almost always used incorrectly by the mainstream press and general public, and this irritates me greatly.
Just like how there’s a clear meaning for words like “clip” and “magazine” (and they don’t mean the same thing), there’s a very clear meaning in math and science for “exponent” and “exponential growth“, and they don’t mean “very fast”, “very large”, or anything of that nature.
Don’t get me wrong, for large exponents, exponential functions increase extremely rapidly. But one can also have negative exponents (resulting in “exponential decay”, which is used to model things like radioactive decay), or very small positive exponents which result in extremely slow growth and long e-folding times.
In short: unless one intends to describe the actual expoential growth or decay of a certain function, please refrain from describing very large things as being “exponentially greater” than some other reference point. It makes you look almost as tardful as using “decimated” (to reduce by one out of every ten) to mean “utterly destroyed.”

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