Five times lwss

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri May 22 14:24:59 UTC 2009

On Fri, May 22, 2009 at 9:51 AM, David A. Daniel wrote:
> Bill Palmer said:
> >
> > In a letter to the editor of the Raleigh News & Observer today, a writer
> > complains that her salary is "five times less" than that of the city
> > manager.  So how does one perform that calculation?
> >
> > Is this more arithmetic than language?
> It means that if the city manager makes 100, she makes 20. 100 divided by 5.
> If she had said "the city manager makes 5 times as much as I do", there
> would be no confusion, I think. I of course have no idea if that is in fact
> the situation with her salary, if that is what she meant to say, if she
> knows what she is talking about, or anything else about the factualness of
> the statement. But that is what she said.

This usage is discussed at length in the MWDEU entry for "times", with examples
back to Jonathan Swift in 1711 ("...but now I am resolved to drink ten times
less than before").

See also Arnold Zwicky's Language Log post last year entitled "Recency"  (citing
ADS-L discussion from '07):

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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