The baby was in the water for up to 10 minutes.

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Phil-Olly

Senior Member
Scotland, English
I wonder if anyone else is uncomfortable with this use of "up to..."

This was a phrase used in a news item today about a baby rescued from the waters of a harbour, who had been in the water for "up to ten minutes". I've previously heard "....up to one hundred people killed in air crash."

It seems to me the phrase is intended to describe a number of events, e.g. "Pupils in a class collecting for charity, raised amounts up to £100." i.e. some pupils raised £50, some £75. £100 was the maximum amount raised.

Or a shop is offering savings of up to 50% off. So you shouldn't be too disappointed if the item you purchase has only 5% off. An advertisement tells me that, people who switch to a particular car insurer have can expect savings of up to £200. Actually, in my case, this was £1.

So how long was the baby in the water? Perhaps it had been rescued on 3 separate occasions: the first time it was in the water for 3 minutes, the next time 5 minutes, and the last time 10 minutes. Hence it had survived "up to ten minutes in the water." Or perhaps, rather like my car insurance, it was in the water for only 30 seconds!
 
  • Hau Ruck

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    So how long was the baby in the water? Perhaps it had been rescued on 3 separate occasions: the first time it was in the water for 3 minutes, the next time 5 minutes, and the last time 10 minutes. Hence it had survived "up to ten minutes in the water."
    I'm a bit confused as to why you'd ask this part? Why would it infer separate occasions?

    I read it as, "The baby was, at most, in the water (on one and only one occasion) for 10 minutes. It may have been 30 seconds, it may have been 5 minutes, but it was not longer than 10 minutes.


    "You may be on hold (phone call) for up to 10 minutes."
    Perhaps they pick up right away, perhaps they pick up in 3 minutes. But they have figured that it will not take any longer than 10 minutes to get to my call.
     

    moomin78

    New Member
    English - British
    To me, the use of "up to" in the news items indicates that they don't know exactly how long the baby was in the water (or, in the second example, precisely how many people were killed in the air crash) but that they do know that it was 10 minutes at most (or no more than 100 people). I think this usage is relatively common in news reporting in circumstances where they don't know all of the facts at the time that they report the story, but are able to give certain information with certainty . For example, in the air crash story, they may know that the plane was carrying 100 people when it crashed so they can report that "up to" 100 people were killed, even though they don't yet know exactly how many may have survived. It's just another way of saying "as many as", or in the baby story "for as long as".

    So, I guess my answer is that I don't feel uncomfortable with that usage!
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Like moomin, I don't feel uncomfortable with this usage in this particular context.

    I do sometimes give a wry smile when I see a shop advertising "up to 50% off"....
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Quite frankly, this sounds to me a bit silly - as though it was pre-planned for the baby to stay in the water for no more than 10 minutes. :D Though I may well be imagining this...
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It really doesn't sound silly to me, boozer....

    I'd translate "The baby was in the water for up to 10 minutes" as "The baby was in the water for perhaps as long as 10 minutes".
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    But why 'up to', Loobie? Why not 'almost' or 'nearly' or 'around' or something? All of them sound right to me because they are not used to advertise discounts. Or to advertise anything :D 'Up to', on the other hand, strikes me as the preposition used for something [seemingly] carefully thought out - our washing powder will clean up to 90% of all stains; this toothpaste reduces the risk of caries by up to 82%, etc.

    I don't know - the moment I read Phil-Olly's post, I understood what he/she meant
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I was going to answer your question, boozer, by saying that I could replace "the baby was in the water for up to 10 minutes" with "the baby was in the water for anything up to 10 minutes".

    I'm not sure that's an explanation, though:(.

    All I can say is that it really doesn't sound strange to me!
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I think if I had been a reporter and had been told by a witness that there was ten minutes between the last sighting out of the water and the discovery of the child in the water, I would have written "The child was in the water for less than ten minutes (aside from anything else, it seems to have a more positive ring to it) The phrase "up to" conjures the same response as many above expressed - a deceptive phrase from advertisers and general misrepre.senters. So had a reaction to the words not quite fitting. I did understand exactly what was intended, however.
     

    moomin78

    New Member
    English - British
    Take the aircraft example. A plane crashes with 100 people on it. The news report goes out before they know if anyone survived. It is correct to say that "up to" 100 people have been killed. You couldn't correctly say "almost", "nearly" or "around" in this case, whereas "up to" (or, alternatively, "as many as") is accurate. It's the same with the baby in the harbour story. Assume for a moment that all we know is that the baby was last seen at 3pm and was pulled out of the water at 3.10pm. All we know for certain is that the baby was in the water for "up to" (or "as long as") 10 minutes. Again, "almost", "nearly" or "around" doesn't accurately reflect what happened.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think if I had been a reporter and had been told by a witness that there was ten minutes between the last sighting out of the water and the discovery of the child in the water, I would have written "The child was in the water for less than ten minutes (aside from anything else, it seems to have a more positive ring to it) [...]
    But ... but ... but, Julian: "The child was in the water for less than ten minutes" has a completely different connotation: it implies that the child was in the water for only a relatively short period. Whereas "the child was in the water for up to ten minutes" carries the implication that the child was in the water for a relatively long period.
     

    moomin78

    New Member
    English - British
    Cross-posted with JulianStuart but I don't agree that "less than" would necessarily be right here - the reporter may have been trying to convey a sense of how miraculous it was that the baby was rescued alive after being in the water for so long. Hence the use of "up to" 10 minutes.

    ETA: also now cross-posted with Loob, but agree entirely with the distinction between "less than" and "up to" in this context.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    In my mind, <10, less than 10*, up to 10 and no more than 10 are equally neutral in terms of the confidence in the actual number.
    I interpreted the original sentence as a simple uncertainty about the length of time while trying to clear my mind of the pollution from "up to 99% off - on marked items only". The fact that it was a "baby" had escaped my notice (for some reason I read "child") and makes the story more newsworthy (and the positive spin from "less than 10 minutes" comes from the likelihood that little permanent harm was done).

    In terms of the emotion we wish to convey, they will have different meanings in different contexts. If ten minutes is a short time - say the child is happily swimming and paddling and safely under supervision, then it's quite a short time (from the child's perspective :D) and no anxiety is conveyed. In this case, the "up to" seems to be being interpreted by some as meaning "as large a duration as ten minutes" or "up to as much as a whole ten minutes". If it was cold water but the child could swim that's not a very miraculous setting, while the same phrase said of a child at the bottom of a swimming pool would be more miraculous. Now, we roll in the word "baby" and shift the whole dimension again. All we know for sure is "duration < 10 minutes". A baby not drowning even after a few minutes('?) floating in the harbour would be miraculous, don't get me wrong, but I didn't read the miracle emotion in the words "up to ten minutes".

    I can hold my breath for up to ten minutes. I can hold my breath for less than ten minutes. Another context and a huge difference in meaning :eek:.



    * This includes 9.999999 minutes (which is effectively the same as the limit of "no more than 10).
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    As I understand it, the 6 month old baby was still strapped into his buggy and was upside down in the water. Clearly the reporter wants to make the report as dramatic as possible (as though it wasn't already) and 'up to' is the same get-out clause that is used by advertisers when they want to exaggerate without being called to account.

    Here is the story
    ...six-month-old baby ... Sam Cooper Stevens, was rescued from the water by a dockmaster and then revived by Tanya Allen, a nurse who had rushed to the scene after hearing screams for help.
    http://news.sky.com/story/1043926/baby-rescue-nurse-revived-harbour-fall-boy
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I have no issues with the usage, and am with Loob and moomin about the connotation. It's something held up for wonderment - or at least that is the intention - and seems to be the case for me regardless of context:

    the baby was in the water for up to 10 minutes
    I can hold my breath for up to 10 minutes
    Sale: Up to 70% off.
     
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