Polonius

To thine own self be true

Briefly

Posted by Polonius on 3 December, 2007

I imagine there’s lots of stories like this. I don’t know why this one has attracted attention. Obviously, it’s a law drafted by morons, and the consequent tragedies will go almost entirely unreported.

I had occasion to chastise Stephen Fry yesterday.

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3 Responses to “Briefly”

  1. azahar said

    Oooo, I didn’t know about that blog – kewl.

  2. Edward the Bonobo said

    It won’t hit home withn him. As he’s often said, ‘language is not mathematics’.

  3. Polonius said

    Language is not mathematics, but when it uses numbers, it should be in an unambiguous way.

    (a) Does “half as much” mean the same as “a half more”?
    (b) Does “one and a half times as much” mean the same as “one and a half times more”?
    (c) Does “three times as much” mean the same as “three times more”?

    Gowers is clear that it does not. I’m sure I’ve seen one of Chris Maslanka’s puzzles in the Grauniad in the past year or two that relied on understanding the distinction.

    Ambiguity is risky. In advertising, it could be fraudulent. Or it would except that nowadays it seems there is little ambiguity. Those who are aware of the distinction simply avoid the “more than” construction altogether. Only the ignorant use it. In case (a) above, I think most people would answer “no”. In case (c), the ignorant would answer “yes”. In case (b), I honestly couldn’t guess what most people would say. If I read “one and a half times more”, I wouldn’t know what the writer intended.

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