1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Spanish
  4. >
  5. An interesting ambiguity: "mu…


An interesting ambiguity: "muy aproximada"

I ran into an apparent (and interesting) ambiguity in the Spanish in translating a sentence from the article "Los tres errores de una estadística mal hecha"(http://duolingo.com/#/translation/9fb0396ee3615b1b1283f4ecb13e8b67).

The sentence is: "Pero lo cierto es que las estadísticas pueden ser una forma muy aproximada de conocer la realidad y evaluarla."

It seems that "muy aproximada" can mean either "very roughly approximate" (the usual meaning in idiomatic English if one says "very approximate") or "closely approximate," depending on the context. I verified that both meanings seem to occur in real Spanish by searching on the phrase at linguee.com.

All other translators so far had translated the phrase in the sentence above as some variety of "very approximate," but this doesn't actually make sense in the context of the article as a whole, where the sense is clearly something like: "Yes, statistics can closely approximate reality, but the problem is that they are easily manipulated and people very often make basic mistakes in using them."

August 23, 2012

1 Comment


I get what you mean after having read through it several times. I think the phrase turns on the word 'approximate'. The two words that are referenced by the approximation are "conocer( la realidad)" and "evaluarla". As in, the approximation is close enough that it can do useful work in providing an understanding of reality. It is clear that whether this is considered a back of the napkin approximation (rough approximate) or a confidence interval approximation ( close approximate) either way it becomes USEFUL.

Learn Spanish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.