Posted by Bob on March 01, 2005

In Reply to: "Zero-Tolerance" posted by Brian from Shawnee on March 01, 2005

: : : I am writting a paper on the phrase "zero tolerance." Does anyone know the etymology of it? I know that it came into use around the 1980's. Was there an event that triggered it? Are there inconsistencies in the contruction of the phrase? Any information would be welcomed! Thanks

: : Ronald Reagan was the first U.S. president to take a zero tolerance approach to drug enforcement, according to "Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley" by Stuart Berg Flexner and Anne H. Soukhanov (Oxford University Press, New York, 1997). Page 54.

: : Another source says "zero tolerance" dates back to 1982. "non-acceptance of antisocial and especially criminal behavior, typically by strict and uncompromising application of the law. Originally US; a political slogan of the law-and-order lobby which spread to Britain int he 1990s." 20th Century Words: The Story of New Words in English Over the Last 100 Years by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999). Page 574.

: : I am wondering if the phrase didn't grow out of the use of "zero" in "zero population growth."

: Seems to me it could come from the world of engineering or quality control. "Zero Defects" can be found in an ISO 9000 glossary, and is described as "The quality concept of zero tolerance for defects (see Six Sigma)." Further research into what "Six Sigma" is, reveals that it is a concept of 3.4 defects per million opportunites, which is for all practical purposes zero defects.

I wouuld agree. The whole concept of "tolerance" has been an engineering and manufacturing term forever.