Something I’ve noticed in many disagreements is the tendency to argue from opposing frames of reference while remaining ignorant of that gap in understanding. It’s sometimes funny to look at these discussions from the outside, realizing that a simple explanation would change the course of the conversation. These misinterpretations could occur when the same expression means different things to different people.
The word “Average” would be an example. It’s often used in reviews to signify a mid-level grade. It all depends on how you look at it. One man’s 7/10 can be another’s 5/10. This could be problem in polls, in which different people are asked to grade a work of art.
If you say that something is an average book, does it mean that if you were to rank all the books you’ve ever read, that it would fall somewhere in the middle? Or does it mean that if you were to rank all the titles that are available for purchase, the book would fall somewhere in the middle?
The first criteria is much stricter, since most pop culture consumers are selective to an extent, choosing to watch films that are more likely to be better than average, and read books that are better than average, in the context of material available for purchase. For obvious reasons we’re more likely to check out that is somewhat acclaimed, which means that it should be better than average. Even most critics are selective, so their average experience is going to be literally above-average. And that’s where people can have different frames of reference for the word, regardless of what they’re discussing (sports, movies, comic books, etc.)
For example, I saw about thirty or so movies released in 2010. These included all ten Best Picture nominees, and a few films with really good reviews (The Illusionist, How to Train Your Dragon, Waiting for “Superman, Four Lions, The Ghost Writer, Shutter Island, etc.) There were some popular (and not so popular) movies I chose not to see, largely due to less than stellar reviews (Twilight, Clash of the Titans, The Last Airbender, Robin Hood, The Expendables, The Little Fockers, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The A-team, Cop Out, Brooklyn’s Finest, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, The Losers, The Bounty Hunter, etc). The 20th best movie I saw from 2010 was probably still pretty good. Though it’s technically below average in terms of my movie-going experiences.
Whenever I start polls on message boards asking people to provide grades for a work of art, I try to use a different phrase than average to explain a choice that’s in the middle. I’m definitely over-thinking this one, but if the definition of average varies from person to person, it’s less effective as an option in polls.
Though I’m told that the alternate terms I use tend to have negative connotations. I tried to use “Bearable” to suggest that the work may still be worthwhile, and that it isn’t particularly bad. I tried using “Pedestrian” but that’s not quite right either. It suggests a work that is lacking in distinction, vitality and imagination (going by the dictionary definition) while there are circumstances under which a “C” work could still have distinctive and imaginative elements.
Personally, I think “Average” has negative connotations, too. Considering all the books, movies, comics, music and video games available, it’s pretty clear that there’s a much better way to spend your time than something that’s merely average.