English in Math

I can yield in my pedantry, but only so far.

Percentage_IncreaseEnglish in Math, part 1:

Recently, several media outlets noted that the US women’s soccer team was subjected to wage discrimination, and that “the World Cup winners were paid four times less than their male counterparts last year.” One can argue the numbers, but there is a clear disparity.

What struck me, though, was the phrase “four times less”, which to my ears, seemed incorrect. I asked my spouse, who is a teacher of English as a New Language (ENL), the new designation for what had been traditionally referred to as English as a Second Language (ESL), in part because those learners may be taking on English as a third language, or fourth, or more. She agreed it “sounded wrong.”

We both would have said the men made four times as much, or the women made a quarter (or a fourth) as much. Professor Milo Schield, from the Department of Business, Accounting and MIS at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN, would agree with us. In COMMON ERRORS IN FORMING ARITHMETIC COMPARISONS, he writes of Using ‘times less’ as an inverted form of ‘times as much’:

Since six is three times as much as two, it is tempting to say that two is three times less than six. Two is definitely less than six and their ratio is definitely that of three to one. But if two were three times less than six, then six should be three times more than two. Recall that six is three times as much as two – two times more than two. ‘Times less than’ is an inverted form of ‘times more than’ – not ‘times as much’. This error is more common in speech than in writing. This error is a variation on… Confusing ‘times as much’ with ‘times more than’.

Got that? Of COURSE, you do.

But after reading this language log, and this observation, I’m willing to cede that, while my thought process is technically correct, I may be willing to give this one a pass. I KNOW what they mean, and explaining the “error” is far too exhausting.

Percentage increase

On the other hand (English in Math, part 2):

Our tax accountant gave us an interesting tidbit, citing our cash charitable contributions as 320% higher than others who earn the same amount and noncash contributions as 40% lower. So, I surmised that if the AVERAGE person gave $100, we would have given $420. Ah, but that’s not what he meant. We have given $320 versus $100. That is 220% higher than OR 320% of the average.

Quoting the professor:

The essential feature is the difference is between ‘as much as’ and ‘more than.’ ‘As much as’ indicates a ratio; ‘more than’ indicates a difference. ‘More than’ means ‘added onto the base’. This essential difference is ignored by those who say that ‘times’ is dominant so that ‘three times as much’ is really the same as ‘three times more than.’

I saw this same error on The Daughter’s First in Math, where there was a 700% increase shown, but the choices were increases of 100%, 200%, 400% and 800%. We picked the 800%, since it was the closest, and it registered as correct.

This all goes to show that I can yield in my pedantry, but only so far.

The Wife turns…another year older

Lots of people ask if my wife speaks another language besides English. She does – Spanish – but it isn’t used much since almost everything in ESL is taught in English.

It’s always interesting, talking about other people while endeavoring to respect their boundaries. The Wife has never said, “Don’t put my age in your blog.” But I’ve been reluctant to anyway. I have noted that she is younger than I (which is far less revealing than if I were to say that someone was older than I.) One CAN assume she’s over 31 since we’ve been married for over 13 years.

Every year on this date, I write something about her, but I have no idea whether she ever reads it. And I used to TELL her I was writing something.

One of the things I have alluded to is the fact that she is a teacher of English as a Second Language. She works for an entity called BOCES which provides all sorts of training to several school districts in a given area. For five years, she was teaching entirely in two schools in one school district. This year, however, that district decided to hire its own ESL teacher, which means that the Wife had a new assignment, which ended up being three schools in two school districts in two different counties. Suffice to say, taking public transportation for her job has become impossible, unlike mine, which is at one place almost every day.

ESL seems to be misunderstood. Lots of people ask if my wife speaks another language besides English. She does – Spanish – but it isn’t used much since almost everything is taught in English, the lingua franca. It is often assumed that the first language for most of her students is Spanish, when in fact she’s had a lot of kids who speak Urdu (pictured, via Wikipedia) or Chinese.

The Wife went back to school in 1999 and graduated in 2002. Going back to school was scary, I imagine (it was for me!), but she excelled at it.

I suspect that one day she’ll be an administrator – she’s taken subsequent courses to that end – though I suspect she’d miss the day-to-day activity of the classroom.

Well, that’s enough for this year. Happy birthday, dear.

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