nomconjobjs: between you and me/I (UNCLASSIFIED)

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 22 19:28:40 UTC 2010

You *can* say it, but how often does this appear in practice.
Personally, I have never seen anyone actually interpret "by a factor of"
with any other combination of verbs and adjectives as anything but
multiplication/division. This is not the same as x%, where the percent
defines relative increase or decrease, virtually by
definition--something that rises 100% actually doubles. It would make no
sense to use "rise" if it were not a question of difference. Similarly,
consider the extreme case here. By your interpretation, A can
"outnumber" B "by a factor of" 1. I simply fail to see this as a
possibility. Despite having graded hundreds (thousands?) of often inept
math students, I am yet to encounter such an interpretation in live
practice (as opposed to an academic discourse of "possible"
interpretations). Just as "percent" blocks ratios/factors (at least
mathematically--not talking about novice misinterpretation), so should
"factor" block any use of differences. My claim is essentially that not
only /should/ it block, but it actually does so far stronger than
percent blocks ratios (students make that mistake all the time).

My initial response to Tom had a typo--the keyboard is "sticking" a bit
and I wrote 40 instead of 440--usually I catch the omissions, but it's
harder with numbers. My response was also slightly misdirected (mea
culpa, in this case) as I was unnecessarily impatient with Tom's query.


On 2/22/2010 12:15 PM, Mullins, Bill AMRDEC wrote:
> In Tom's example, I would say that A = 440.  But I could see the
> argument for A = 540 -- "outnumbers" could refer to the excess portion.
> Arnold's logic is A = B*(factor).  Given the use of the word
> "outnumber", I wouldn't say that A = B*(1 + factor) is wrong.  If the
> original sentence were "A outnumbers B by a factor of 1.0", this is the
> only way I could interpret it.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
>> Behalf Of Arnold Zwicky
>> Sent: Monday, February 22, 2010 10:55 AM
>> Subject: Re: nomconjobjs: between you and me/I
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> --------
>> On Feb 22, 2010, at 8:41 AM, Tom Zurinskas wrote:
>>> Is the phrase "by a factor of" common in US?  To say A outnumbers B
>>> by a factor of 4.4 - what does that mean?  If B is 100 than A is  ?
>> my usage of "a factor of N" is short for "a factor of N:1", meaning
>> that the frequency of A is greater than the frequency of B, and the
>> ratio of A to B is N:1.
>>> Sorry.  Too old for new math.
>> there's nothing new-mathy about it.  it's entirely a matter of the
>> language i used to talk about the data, which apparently is opaque to
>> at least one reader.
>> (by the way, the new math was new in the 1960s, which is quite some
>> time ago now.)
>> arnold

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