Friday, 10 May 2013


Man Utd, Manchester United, Benchmark, Best, Greatest,
Sir Alex Ferguson
The Best of the Best - but a benchmark?


Noun, adjective & verb. Mid-19th century.
[from BENCH noun + MARK noun]

A noun
1. A surveyor's mark consisting of a broad arrow with a horizontal bar through its apex,
cut in rock, etc. to indicate a point whose position and height have been surveyed. M19

2. figurative. A point of reference, a criterion. L19

B attributively or as adjective
Serving or used as a benchmark. M20

My only contention with benchmark is that I often hear it to mean the very best example of something, whereas it doesn't mean that at all. An example of this would be Sir Alex Ferguson, soon-to-retire manager of Manchester United and widely regarded as one of the best football managers the sport has ever seen. The People reported that former footballer Andy Cole 'reckons that Ferguson sets the benchmark for domestic managers,' directly quoting Cole as saying: 'He is the best.'

As footballers are famously particular about their use of English, I should highlight that Cole didn't say Ferguson sets the benchmark at all. Rather, it would seem the journalist took the words 'He is the best' to mean that Cole considers him as setting the benchmark, which of course it doesn't. Fortunately, though, sanity was restored when Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew weighed in on the debate and was decisively quoted in Mancunian Matters as saying that Ferguson is 'too successful to be considered the benchmark.'

Well done you, Mr Pardew, for understanding that a benchmark is a point of reference for judging something, and making that point of reference the very best of anything is rather nonsensical. Shame on you, anonymous journalist of The People, for incorrectly suggesting that Andy Cole had carelessly used the word benchmark with reckless abandonment. Footballers get very upset about that kind of thing, you know.

Surveyor's mark, Standard, Measure,
This is the very best benchmark I could find ... so ... ? 

1 comment:

  1. I worked in an electronic calibration laboratory for a couple of years, so I share your distress at the misuse of the word benchmark. Volts, Amps, seconds, metres etc can all be compared to a standard, accurate to within a few parts per million.

    I did leave a literal bench-mark once, but I regret it now.