What Does Average Mean?

Updated on October 23, 2012

If you are asking “What does average mean?”, you have come to the right place. The definition of average is simply a value derived by dividing the sum of a set of numbers by the quantity of numbers. At first glance that may sound like a difficult explanation for something that should be a very straight forward question. Don’t fear, the verbiage used to describe an average is not as clear as its mathematical representation. Here is a very simple example of an average (mathematical mean) for a given set of numbers. For this example, we will derive the average for 3 single digit numbers. Those numbers are: 3, 4, and 5. To calculate the average will add these numbers (the sum of the numbers) to get a result of 12 (3+4+5=12). With the sum of the numbers in hand, let’s now calculate the average. Taking the result of our addition (12) we will now divide by the quantity of numbers which is 3 in this case. The 12 divided by 3 equals 4 which is our calculated average. (3+4+5)/3 = 4.

See that wasn’t too difficult. Let’s try one more simple example just to make sure we have the concept of average worked out. In this case we will take 4 numbers. 5, 3, 8, and 8. The sum of these four numbers is 24 and the quantity of numbers is 4. Taking the sum of the numbers divided by the quantity gives us an average of 6 (5+3+8+8)/4 = 6.

Here are a few other examples just to help solidify the concept:

(2+4) / 2 = an average of 3

(3+4+8) / 3 = an average of 5

(9+3+5+7) / 4 = an average of 6

(10+7+9+12+7) / 5 = an average of 9

What does average mean? Other definitions:

So we have covered the mathematics definition of average, but what are some other definitions? Interestingly,the question “What does average mean?” can actually be answered in a number of ways as the definitions for the non-mathematics uses are replete. Among the alternate definitions:

Meaning of average in Nautical Law:

The loss of a ship, ocean going vessel, or cargo, as a result of damage at sea.

The even and equitable distribution of the loss among stakeholders.

Meaning of average in nautical operations:

Minor or small expenses or charges that are generally paid by the ship master.

Alternative mathematical meanings of average:

Being intermediate between extremes or the edges of a range, as on a scale

Usual or ordinary in type or character

To distribute evenly

Meaning of average in slang:

The attractiveness of someone. Generally speaking, when someone is described as average they are considered to be alright looking; not beautiful, but not unattractive.

Clearly the mathematical definition of average is the “normal” answer to the question "What does average mean,” but it is clear to see that there are other, equally interesting meanings of average beyond that which we use most regularly.

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