Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: relative to.

relative to. “Relative to” (= in relation to; in comparison with) is, in Eric Partridge’s words, “gobbledygook” (Usage & Abusage at 263). Though that pronouncement is a bit strong, the phrase can be easily replaced to good advantage — e.g.: o “If you made a list of the worst banking crises relative to [read ‘in relation to’] a nation’s GDP over the past 15 to 20 years, America’s S&L crisis doesn’t even make the top 50.” Rob Norton, “The Big Costs of Policy Mistakes,” Fortune, 29 Sept. 1997, at 44. o “The estimates obtained here for fathers and sons are low relative to [read ‘compared with’] those found in Solon (1992), Zimmerman (1992), and Altonji and Dunn (1991).” Kenneth A. Couch & Thomas A. Dunn, “Intergenerational Correlations in Labor Market Status,” J. Human Resources, 22 Dec. 1997, at 210. Although “relative to” is shorter than most phrases that can replace it, its meaning tends to be less clear, as illustrated in the examples above. “Relatively to” is a comparatively rare — and unidiomatic — equivalent. E.g.: “It points to the benefits [that] such countries as the UK, Italy and Sweden have enjoyed by allowing their currencies to weaken relatively to [read ‘in relation to’] those of France and Germany.” Robert Chote, “IMF Report Upsets Paris and Bonn,” Fin. Times, 30 Mar. 1996, at 3. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————- Quotation of the Day: “To become a lexicographer, certainly never entered into my calculation, or even found a place in the castle-building of my younger days; and if a kind friend had suggested to me that I was destined to fill such a position in life, I would simply have regarded him as a fit subject for the care of the authorities.” George W. Matsell, Vocabulum; or, The Rogue’s Lexicon iii (1859).
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