Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Illogic (4).

Illogic (4). Today: “Times Less Than.” Brand Y may cost twice as much as Brand X, but that doesn’t mean Brand X is twice as cheap as Brand Y. Farburg may be two times as far away as Nearville, but that doesn’t mean Nearville is two times closer than Farburg. Big Dog may be twice the size of Little Dog, but that doesn’t mean Little Dog is two times smaller than Big Dog. “One time” is 100% of the cost, distance, size, or any other measure. If you take away “one time” something, you’ve taken away all there is. If the price is discounted 100%, the item is free. “Two times cheaper,” if it means anything, might imply that the store will pay you the full price of Brand Y if you will take Brand X home with you. That mangles the meaning of “cost,” and it surely isn’t what the writer means. What does the writer mean? Probably “half,” but who knows for sure? Yet despite the illogic of the phrase, it’s used all the time, even in scientific literature — e.g.: “Virus levels in the one animal were intermittently higher but still more than 100 times lower than [read ‘less than 1% as much as’] those in four control animals that had not received the vaccine.” “HIV Vaccines: New Prime-Boost Strategy Shows Promise in Monkeys,” Gene Therapy Weekly, 22 Mar. 2001, at 9. A similar but less egregious problem arises when we say that X is “two times more than” Y. The common understanding is that if Y is 1, then X is 2. But logically speaking, “more” implies that the 2 is added the 1, so X should be 3. The more precise wording is “X is two times as much as Y.” For more information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “The most plausible way to unify your paragraphs is to concentrate on building each one on a thought expressed in the first sentence.” Richard Marius, A Writer’s Companion 52 (1985).
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