. . . times lower than . . .

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 4 15:27:07 UTC 2007

At 8:08 AM -0700 9/4/07, Laurence Urdang wrote:
>After the initial reading of the beginning of this response, I
>thought I'd gone daft.  My comment about temperature had nothing
>whatsoever to do with the scales used, and they are entirely
>   Also, I didn't say I don't understand it, just that I consider it
>an aberrant usage.
>   L. Urdang

For me, it would go along with operations on marked scales--e.g.
"twice as short" rather than "half as tall/long"; "three times as
narrow" rather than "one third as wide".  On the other hand, absolute
rather than relative comparisons seem fine:

two degrees lower
three inches shorter
one inch narrower



>"Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET> wrote:
>   ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: "Joel S. Berson"
>Subject: Re: . . . times lower than . . .
>At 9/4/2007 09:56 AM, Laurence Urdang wrote:
>>  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.
>I have noticed it and am somewhat bothered by it, but I do understand
>it. And it does not seem incorrect mathematically -- that is, given
>one of the two numbers I can compute the other confidently.
>>  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.]
>Apart from truth, I don't think one can say this about the customary
>(Fahrenheit, Centigrade) temperature scales -- they do not have the
>mathematical property (whose name I've forgotten) that allows ratios
>to be computed. One can apply ratios to the Kelvin scale, with its
>zero at absolute zero.
>>  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.
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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