584px-Zytglogge_clockface_detailRecently, on a language education website that shall remain unnamed, I saw an offer: “learn a language in 30 days.” This claim is shocking enough, but what really attracted my attention was in the details: the learner could obtain “up to one 30-minute lesson daily, for 30 days.”

The original source used bolding like this: “up to one 30-minute lesson daily, for 30 days.” My mind bolded like this: “UP TO ONE 30-minute lesson daily, for 30 days.”

Let me explain why this makes no sense at all.

When we say “up to,” this is an abbreviation for up to, and including, X where “X” is a number.

For example, a store is having a clearance sale of a particular brand of detergent for washing clothes. This detergent is being sold at 50% off the regular price (that is, 1/2, half the regular price). However, to prevent a single person or a rival company from buying huge amounts of detergent and seeking to sell it to others for more than the store’s own price, or other mischief, the store specifies: “up to two (2) boxes per customer.

This means: each individual customer may only buy up to, or including, two boxes.

Now, no store sells half a box of detergent. Imagine if someone took a sword and sliced a box in half to sell you only half a box: detergent powder would go flying in every direction. This is silly. The store will only sell whole boxes, that is, whole numbers of boxes.

If the maximum number of boxes is two (2), the store will sell to customers:

  • EITHER One (1) Box
  • OR Two (2) Boxes

The store will not sell three (3) or more boxes to any customer. These are the terms of the clearance sale.

Now, let us go back to the original example. If you can obtain up to one lesson per day for 30 days, you can obtain:

  • EITHER One (1) Lesson
  • OR One (1) Lesson

…Wait a minute, they’re the same!?! Yes. Yes, they are.

Using “up to one” is silly. You cannot obtain either one, or one; you must obtain one lesson per day. At best, this phrasing is awkward and redundant. At worst, this phrasing wrongly implies that you can get more lessons per day, while technically telling you the maximum number is one (1) per day. This is, at the very least, confusing to the customer.

At Learn Out Live, you can obtain one 45-minute session for 15 Euros; you can also obtain discounts if you order ten lessons at a time; and you can obtain larger discounts if you order up to twenty lessons at a time. The discount does not increase past this point, so “up to” is properly used.

My long-term Japanese student ordered two packages of twenty lessons each, obtaining the maximum discount for both. Now that’s using your head.