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Which is a safer play in golf -- the option with the lesser margin of error or the one with the greater margin of error?

asked 2015-07-04 20:00:33 -0400

A question arose today, not about the rules of golf, but about the use of our common language. Imagine that you were a golfer preparing to hit a shot and considering two different options. You decide to take the safer one, the one that has less risk of a really bad shot. You announce that you are going to take the shot with the “greater margin of error.” Another golfer interjects that, “you mean the lesser margin of error.” A row ensued, each golfer pretending to know more than the other, Which side do you think is correct, professor? If you are taking the safer path, is that the one with the greater or lesser margin for error? In addition, there seems to be a question regarding the phrase “margin of error.” The objecting golfer insists that the only proper term is “margin for error.” Do you have any insight on that as well?

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answered 2015-07-05 00:04:04 -0400

usagi5886 gravatar image

updated 2015-07-07 21:45:55 -0400

It seems, in the usage in question, 'margin' refers more or less to 'probability'. So if we define 'safe' as 'least likelihood of error', then lesser margin/probability of error = safer. Put simply (and abstracting away from the details), less error = more safe, right?

Regarding the of vs. for question, there is a good discussion of the topic on the forum at I agree with two responses there (by entangledbank and JulianStuart). The bottom line is that both are possible expressions, just with different meanings. In your case involving golf, I don't think you intend to refer to margin of error, since that is a statistical term often used to describe political polling results. Rather, it seems 'margin for error' would be more appropriate.


Upon further reflection, I realized where the confusion was coming from.

If the phrase in question is margin of error, then my first paragraph above is right. However, if the phrase in question is margin for error, which my second paragraph suggests is probably more technically correct, then it's the opposite. In that case, 'margin' doesn't mean 'probability' - it means something like 'leeway' or 'wiggle-room'. So if that's the case, then more 'margin for error' would be better.

To summarize, the better choice in golf would be the one with...

  • Less margin (=probability) of error [Probably technically incorrect, since it's a non-standard use of a statistical term]
  • More margin (=leeway) for error

Sorry for the confusion!

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Asked: 2015-07-04 20:00:33 -0400

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Last updated: Jul 07 '15