April 18, 2002

Things Might Have Been Different

I recently saw a pharmaceutical industry ad on TV that showed a young woman explaining how she had benefited from new drugs taken for her breast cancer. “Ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today,” she said gratefully. I understood generally what she meant, but her statement is curious. After all, ten years ago, she could only be sitting somewhere ten years ago. What exactly was the statement supposed to mean? One possibility is something like: “Ten years ago, there was little likelihood that I would be sitting here today, ten years later.” To an advertising manager, that no doubt sounds too coldly statistical. What may have been meant is: “Had I been born ten years earlier and contracted cancer at the same age as I did, I probably would not have lived as long as I have.” That sentence is hardly a memorable sound bite. Clarity is not always euphonious.

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