Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hashing out "times"

Interesting discussion at The Volokh Consipiracy about whether saying something is "X times lower" than something else makes any sense at all. The only definitive conclusion I can draw from the comments is that it's probably best to just skip the phrase. For example, Hedberg says:

As the first comment demonstrates, these usages (x times larger, x times lower) can be confusing. For ten times larger, multiply by 11; for ten times lower, divide by which: ten or eleven? Although I'm neither a genius nor an expert on English usage, I do have an advanced engineering degree and some facility and familiarity with both math and English. Despite that, I find the usage "X times lower" to be confusing; I'm never quite sure what is intended. If what is meant is "one tenth as much," I ask myself, when I encounter it, why did not the writer write that?

If what you have written causes this much confusion (128 comments to discuss the matter at the time of this writing!), then dump the phrase. Find another way to say it. This bugbear just isn't worth the hassle.

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