mean age

In the May 9th One Big Happy, Ruthie is faced with the ambiguity of modifying mean — and, unsurprisingly, opts for a familiar sense rather than a technical one:

mean /min/ is a monosyllable with three high-frequency segments in it, so it’s no surprise that it is many-ways ambiguous. OED3 has a giant forest of uses and senses, including this antique surprise

Obsolete. Intercourse, fellowship; spec. sexual intercourse. [clear cites from a1325 and a1450]

NOAD, sticking to current senses of some currency, has three entries (for each of three different historical sources):

(meanis the verb meaning ‘signify’ (with many subentries))

mean2 adj.: 1 chiefly British unwilling to give or share things, especially money; not generous: she felt mean not giving a tip | they’re not mean with the garlic. 2 [a]unkind, spiteful, or unfair: it was very mean of me | she is always mean to my little brother. [b] North American vicious or aggressive in behavior: the dogs were considered mean. 3 [a] (especially of a place) poor in quality and appearance; shabby: her home was mean and small. [b] (of a person’s mental capacity or understanding) inferior; poor: it was obvious to even the meanest intelligence. [c] dated of low birth or social class: it was a hat like that worn by the meanest of people. 4 informal excellent; very skillful or effective: he’s a mean cook | she dances a mean Charleston.

meannoun: 1 the value obtained by dividing the sum of several quantities by their number; an average: acid output was calculated by taking the mean of all three samples. … 2 a condition, quality, or course of action equally removed from two opposite (usually unsatisfactory) extremes: the mean between two extremes. adj. [attributive] 1 (of a quantity) calculated as a mean; average: by 1989, the mean age at marriage stood at 24.8 for women and 26.9 for men. 2 equally far from two extremes: hope is the mean virtue between despair and presumption.

The kids’ father’s mean in mean age is the technical term from mathematics: meanadj. sense 1.  Ruthie’s mean is the everyday mean of Mean Girlsmean2 adj. sense 2 ([a] or [b]).

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