. . . times lower than . . .

Laurence Urdang urdang at SBCGLOBAL.NET
Tue Sep 4 13:56:37 UTC 2007

>From a letter in today's Daily Telegraph:
  ". . . the murder rate in London is five times lower than some cities in the United States . . ."
  I am not interested in the source or in the sense but in this typical use of times that has sprung up in the past couple of decades (according to my observation) with the meaning 'one nth': in the present instance, in my dialect (!) I should have said, ". . . is one fifth (of) that in some cities."
  I cannot conceive how or why times, which is an indication of multiplication, not division, has come to mean its opposite.
  Am I the only English speaker on earth who has noticed this or is bothered by it?  I have never seen another comment on it.
  A typical context would be, "The average temperature at the Antarctic is five times lower than [that] at the Arctic."  [Forget about the truth of the statement, for grammar and truth are unrelated.]
  In other words, instead of using the appropriate fraction or percentage indicated, 'one quarter of' becomes "four times lower than," 'one third of' becomes "three times less than," etc.
  L. Urdang
  Old Lyme

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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