. . . times lower than . . .

Laurence Urdang urdang at SBCGLOBAL.NET
Wed Sep 5 14:57:37 UTC 2007

I wrote nothing about what LH calls "absolute" comparisons, for they are fine.
  But I cannot agree that "half as long" is the same as "twice as short": such an equivalency makes no sense to me.  "Twice" means 'two times,' not 'half,' and it is beyond me how or why the two have become confused.
  L. Urdang

Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Laurence Horn
Subject: Re: . . . times lower than . . .

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" 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.
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