Scale of one to ten
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A scale of one to ten, or scale from one to ten, is a general and largely vernacular concept used for rating things, people, places, ideas, and so on. It is often noted as a "scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is best" (or "perfect"). For extreme cases, a higher rank is sometimes called "eleven" (11), while an extreme bottom score would be "zero" (0), as below the minimum of 1. The 10-point rank is a natural and popular choice of scale used in ordinary speech, along with scales of one-to-five or one-to-four points (or "stars").
Scales to four or five are more likely to be represented in use by conceptual (or pictorial) "stars", especially when used to rate books, films, music albums, concerts, etc., and especially by the media. These can also include scores in between integers to give a more precise rating. Scales from one to five are commonly used to rate hotels, and in this use, it would be rare not to refer to them as "stars". From this we derive the idiomatic adjective "five-star", meaning "first-rate". It seems that the choices of scales to five and to ten are influenced by the number of fingers on a hand, and the usual use of ten as a numerical base, which in turn is derived from the number of fingers on two hands.
Significance of 1
The lower end of any scale of this kind is normally represented by 1 and indicates the extreme negative rating option. This vaguely implies that 5 represents neutrality, an average state, or some degree of indifference. Depending on what it is being rated, it could be all of these, it could be only one, or conceivably the scale could be distorted so that 5 had very little specific meaning. Furthermore, the middle of the scale is usually conceived in this mould, because the scale is most importantly set by its extremities—the concept of the one-to-ten scale being used as might any other word or expression as a tool of the language. That is, the fact that a scale of one to ten is used so much is what makes it desirable to re-use again and again, because it is the very function of language to provide us with signs and symbols that can be used to mean something, without having to explain what that meaning is every time we do so.
1 is used as the lower extremity of any scale of this kind, and not 0, which could be easily used in its stead, and would be equally intuitive. However, it is common for people to extend the scale in any case, in the same way that the Burj al-Arab hotel in Dubai is commonly described as the world's only "seven-star" hotel.
Significance of 10
10 out of 10 is usually held to mean "excellent" or "perfection", for example the "Perfect 10" score in gymnastics. The implication is that there is no fault at all with what might merit a lower mark. Exaggerated rankings of eleven or more out of ten is common hyperbole (See Up to eleven).
The numbers one through ten are colloquially used as nouns, as in the example: "The performance was at best a two" or "What a beauty—she's a ten!" The extreme ends of 1 and 10 are used the most in this way. One can also say, for example, "I'd give that salesman a five", meaning a mediocre rating.
- Mass Media Research: An Introduction, Roger D. Wimmer, Joseph R. Dominick, 2006, 468 pages, p.55, webpage: GB5: quote, "A 10 is best or perfect, a 1 is worst or incorrect".
- "Please mark the box by the word that best describes your home", U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, April 1999, webpage: H: quote, "neighborhood on a scale of 1 to 10? (1 is worst, 10 is best)".