"inferior than" - Re: New to me

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Dec 29 19:21:07 UTC 2007

On Dec 28, 2007, at 3:53 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:

> From Backslash:
> Is the iMac _inferior than_ the new Dell XPS1?
> About 48,400 raw (they include standard strings like "Some Chinese are
> _more inferior [in some way(s)] than_ others") Google hits.

about ten times as many hits for "superior than", e.g.:

  20 Yahoo! Answers - Is UK superior than the rest of Europe? –
Discover the answer for this question and Earn more points for the
best answer on Yahoo!

new to me as well, and a quick look at some of the usage literature
doesn't turn up alarm bells there.  but the usage is scarcely
surprising, given the celebrated "different than".

one possible analysis would be that it's a combo of "inferior/superior
to" and "worse/better than"; that would be parallel to the analysis of
"different than" suggested by the OED and Poutsma (according to
MWDEU), in which it's a combo of "different to/from" and "other
than".  ("different to" is the first attested usage.)

but Jespersen had a different idea, a better one, i think -- that
"different" was viewed as a comparative, and so picked up the
appropriate preposition for comparison, namely "than".  in support of
this idea, Jespersen noted that "different" can be modified by adverbs
used with comparatives, in particular "(not) much" ("other (than)" is
not modifiable in this way).

"inferior" and "superior" are comparative as well (and can be modified
by "(not) much"), so it makes sense that they should get the
comparative preposition "than" too.

"than" encroaches in other places as well, in particular for "as".
MWDEU notes occurrences of "twice as many ... than" and "twice as
much ... than" -- which it treats as syntactic blends (of "more ...
than" and "twice as many/much ... as"), though they can be seen just
as extensions of comparative "than" into new territory.


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