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  1. #1
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    Use of phrase " times less than"

    I have noticed the increasing use of what I consider to be incorrect comparison within the english media and would value another opinion regarding this. An example taken from the BBC today follows:
    "the UCI said the concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms - 400 times less than anti-doping laboratories"

    Could someone please tell me what this statement means and also what the writer may think that it means.

    This seems to be used very often and I am not sure if it is deemed to be correct and I am out of date or if it is just poor use of the language.

  2. #2
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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    Quote Originally Posted by EMAIL REMOVED - Send PM to This User Instead View Post
    I have noticed the increasing use of what I consider to be incorrect comparison within the english media and would value another opinion regarding this. An example taken from the BBC today follows:
    "the UCI said the concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms - 400 times less than anti-doping laboratories"

    Could someone please tell me what this statement means and also what the writer may think that it means.

    This seems to be used very often and I am not sure if it is deemed to be correct and I am out of date or if it is just poor use of the language.
    My opinion is that it's a poor use of language.
    I'd interpet this as meaning that the anti-doping laboratories got a result that was 400 times that of the UCI result, ie. 20,000 picograms.

    Of course, this leads to the problem that "400 times less" therefore means 400*50 times less, which is 20,000 picograms less, therefore 0. So the real antidoping lab reading should be 20,050. This doesn't make a big difference when you speak of "400 times less", but "three times less" is a real problem.

    Put simply, if x = a*y, then y != x-(a*y). y = x-(a*y) + y.
    Last edited by Raymott; 30-Sep-2010 at 15:00.

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    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    I'd interpet this as meaning that the anti-doping laboratories got a result that was 400 times that of the UCI result, ie. 20,000 picograms.
    That's how I understand it too. The expression is a word-by-word translation of the Polish expression used to mean that. It's perfectly fine in Polish (actually it's the only expression used to mean that) but I heard several times that it's not so good it English. I remember having some doubts about the Polish expression as a child but I grew to use it like everybody.

    Of course, this leads to the problem that "400 times less" therefore means 400*50 times less, which is 20,000 picograms less, therefore 0.
    I'm not sure if I follow you. Would you say it's correct to say,

    a) 40 is 5 times bigger than 8.
    b) 40 is 5 times as big as 8.
    c) 8 is 5 times smaller than 40.
    d) 8 is 5 times as small as 40.

    To my Polish ear, they're all fine except d) (which could be used in some particular contexts only) and a) means the same as b).

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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    My interpretation would be that anything can be "times" bigger or larger than some thing else but if smaller it should be stated either in the opposite order so that the phrase remain "times" larger or as an alternative could be stated as a portion of.
    ( I have just reread the above and I am not sure that have been clear )

    EG

    a) 40 is 5 times bigger than 8. Correct
    b) 40 is 5 times as big as 8. Correct
    c) 8 is 5 times smaller than 40. Not correct
    d) 8 is 5 times as small as 40. Not correct
    e) 8 is 0.2 times as large as 40. Correct
    f) 5 is one eighth as big as 40. Correct ( I think)


    I believe that the original statement "the UCI said the concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms - 400 times less than anti-doping laboratories" was supposed to mean that the antidoping result was 400 times larger than 50 picograms ie. 20,000 picograms.

    It just makes me quite angry that it is used by so many supposedly educated people in an incorrect manner which in turn

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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    I'm not sure if I follow you.
    That's OK.

    Would you say it's correct to say,

    a) 40 is 5 times bigger than 8. No. Five times bigger than what? Do you mean that 40 is 5 times 8 bigger than 8 is? That means 40 is 5*8 (= 40) bigger than 8. Therefore, 40 = 48.

    b) 40 is 5 times as big as 8. Yes. 40 = 5 * 8

    c) 8 is 5 times smaller than 40. No. 8 is 5 times what smaller than 40? If you mean 8 is 5 times itself (8) smaller than 40, then again 8 is 40 less than 40, so 8 = 0.

    d) 8 is 5 times as small as 40. No. 8 is a fifth the size of 40.

    Here's how a mathematician (or any logical person, really) would see it:
    e. Q. How many times 8 is 8 smaller than 40? (from d).
    e. A. 8 is 32 smaller than 40. 32/8 = 4. So 8 is 4 times itself (8) smaller than 40. (Not 5 times)

    f. Q. 40 is how many times bigger than 8 [ie. 40 is how many times 8 bigger than 8]. (as in a)
    f. A. 40 is 32 bigger than 8. 32/8 = 4. So, 40 is 4 times 8 bigger than 8. (Not 5 times).

    To my Polish ear, they're all fine except d) (which could be used in some particular contexts only) and a) means the same as b).
    a can't mean b.

    Let's say my wage is $150/hr and yours is $50/hr.
    My wage is 3 times yours. (Since 3 times 50 is 150)
    It is also twice bigger than yours. (= 2*50 bigger = $100/hr bigger than yours = 50 + 100 = $150/hr


    If you claim that "2 times as big" means "2 times bigger", then "1 time as big" (the same size) must mean 1 time bigger (twice as big).

    Similarly, you'd have to say that something which is 50% bigger than A is actually smaller than A, because "50% bigger" would mean "50% as big" (= 1/2 the size of A)!
    R

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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    Quote Originally Posted by EMAIL REMOVED - Send PM to This User Instead View Post

    a) 40 is 5 times bigger than 8. Correct
    40 is 5 times 6.4 bigger than 8. (5 times 6.4 = 32; and 40 is 32 bigger than 8)
    40 is not 5 times 8 bigger than 8.

    It just makes me quite angry that it is used by so many supposedly educated people in an incorrect manner which in turn
    Indeed.
    R

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    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    Thanks, Raymott.

    I must say it's very hard for me believe. I hope it doesn't offend you. I'll tell you my reasons and I hope you'll understand why it is so.

    What you say is exactly what confused me when I was a child and learned maths in Polish. It confused my daughter too and I know of more such cases. We all thought just what you say, two times bigger can't mean two times as big. I remember thinking "what with 'one time bigger' then" too. But, in Polish, that's just how it is. "one time bigger" doesn't exist in Polish, simply because it would have to mean "of the same size" and the "bigger" wouldn't fit. And nobody can change it. It's everywhere, in math books, grammar books...

    But that's Polish. It could be just our stupid invention. But then, I see it in English, Italian and German too. So I can't help but think it must be some kind of our common European problem.

    Now, an educated native speaker of English, David, allows me to use my a) and you don't. I heard and read it in English many times but also heard a few (and I mean few) critical voices about it (that are not present in my language). That makes me think the construction is almost as widely used as in Polish.
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 30-Sep-2010 at 21:43.

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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    Now, an educated native speaker of English, David, allows me to use my a) and you don't. I heard and read it in English many times but also heard a few (and I mean few) critical voices about it (that are not present in my language). That makes me think the construction is almost as widely used as in Polish.
    Unfortunately, it is common in English. That doesn't mean it's right. It's always going to ambiguous as long as there are people who realise that "50% bigger" can't mean "50% as big".
    It's one of those phrases like "next Saturday" (and I guess, 'literally') which people can't agree upon, so they are pragmatically meaningless.
    Maybe this is another one for the rubbish bin (trash can)?

    PS: We don't use "One time as big" or "One time bigger" in English either (I think). That was just for example.

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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    It's always going to ambiguous as long as there are people who realise that "50% bigger" can't mean "50% as big".
    Well, Polish mathematicians achieved quite a lot despite being so linguistically handicapped...

    I know what I wanted to know though, it is ambiguous in English.

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    Re: Use of phrase " times less than"

    Thanks to everybody who has contributed to this debate. It amuses me but does not surprise me that even an educated native English speaker ( me ) can get it wrong.

    I understand what you are all saying probably because I am a native English speaker but unfortunately it must be confusing for people trying to learn the correct use of English especially those with mathematical tendencies.

    I get upset when I hear or read the media regularly using poorly constructed sentences ( especially when the meaning may be ambiguous ) which then seem to become the norm very quickly with young native English speakers.

    I wonder if this happens with other languages. Unfortunately I do not speak any other language sufficiently well to be able to comment. Possibly some of the linguists in the forum might like to comment.

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