relative vs. absolute

Tom Zurinskas truespel at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 3 07:57:13 UTC 2009

It's confusing to me to call Mohr's ranking a scale.  Scales have measured units.  Calling a rank order a scale does not seem right.  If you line up people in order of height, do you have a scale?  I think not.  Is the 2nd person 4 times taller than the 8th?  I think not.

Calling a ranking a "relative" scale isn't much righter since the word "scale" is still used to describe a ranking instead of actual measurements.

Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL5+

> Date: Tue, 2 Jun 2009 21:06:01 -0400
> From: aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
> Subject: relative vs. absolute
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Victor
> Subject: relative vs. absolute
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Perhaps I am overly influenced by mathematics and physics jargon, but I
> am having trouble figuring out in what sense "relative" is being used in
> a piece on "absolute hardness". Normal interpretation of "[measure] X
> [for Y] is relative" for me is that X is a measure of Y where Y is being
> compared to Z. If a "scale" merely gives some ranking of Y, Z and other
> "stuff", I would never consider describing such a scale as "relative".
> In the example here, I would consider the "absolute hardness" scale to
> be relative, in the sense that the tool that measures it, a sclerometer,
> does so by effectively comparing the test hardness to some reference
> measure. But the Mohr scale is simply a rank ordering of minerals in
> terms of hardness without any attempt to relate them, so using
> "relative" in this context makes no sense to me. And I don't just make
> that distinction in English--hopefully it's not some form of early senility.
> Do I need to get out more or is the following passage really odd with
> respect to its use of "relative"? My guess is that the author of the
> piece reinterpreted the modifier "absolute" to apply to "scale" rather
> than to "hardness" and recovered his meaning of "relative" from there.
> Absolute Hardness
> The Mohs Hardness Scale is relative. Fluorite at 4 is not twice as hard
> as gypsum at 2; nor is the difference between calcite and fluorite
> similar to the difference between corundum and diamond. An absolute
> hardness scale looks a little different than the relative scale. Using a
> piece of sensitive equipment called a sclerometer, a comparison of the
> absolute hardness of minerals can be measured. Most minerals are close
> in hardness. But as hardness increases, the difference in hardness
> greatly increases as seen in this absolute hardness scale.
> Using an absolute scale you can say that corundum is actually 4 times
> softer than diamond, not half as soft as Mohs relative scale leads you
> to believe.
> Mohr's Scale: 1. Talc, 2. Gypsum, 3. Calcite, 4. Fluorite, 5. Apatite,
> 6. Orthoclase/Feldspar, 7. Quartz, 8. Topaz, 9. Corundum, 10. Diamond
> Absolute Hardness Scale: 1 Talc, 3 Gypsum, 9 Calcite, 21 Fluorite, 48
> Apatite, 72 Orthoclase/Feldspar, 100 Quartz, 200 Topaz, 400 Corundum,
> 1600 Diamond
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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