English in Math

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

English 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 Lydster, Part 142: First in Math

At Thanksgiving, when we were at my in-laws, the Daughter became obsessed with being on the computer. But it wasn’t to be playing with the latest mind-numbing video trash. It was to play First in Math.

The variety of games include Measurement World, where one picks out the comparable length or weight in either metric, US customary, or mixed; Know and Show word problems; and Skill Sets. The latter uses the 24® Game, which, briefly, is getting four numbers and using the math functions, trying to get to 24.

For instance, if the numbers were 5, 6, 7, and 8, you could do: 5+7=12, 8-6=2, 12X2=24. But the actual timed play gets increasingly difficult, as the numbers include negative integers, fractions, and decimals. It gets even trickier when one has two sets of numbers, one number is unknown in each set and needs to be solved using the same missing variable.

FIM was designed to “Harness the power of digital gaming to build math skills.” Schools all over the country participated, but, as of the end of December, there wasn’t a New York State school in the top 100 of the country, less a matter of skill than a function of different emphasis.

Within the school district, the Daughter’s class was the last in her school, and her school among the last in the city to join First in Math, beginning in mid-October. At the end of the third week in November, she had about 4500 points, but by the time the turkey had digested in our stomachs, she’d reached 7500 points. And in mid-December, she obtained the coveted 10,000 points and got to first place in the city, overtaking some child two grades behind her at a different school.

Her class went from barely in the Top 50 in the state to the mid-teens. In the city, they are a solid #2, though it would be difficult – “Don’t say impossible!”, she implores – to catch them. A lot of that, though by no means, all of that rise came from her efforts.

I’d like to say that I have no idea where she gets this competitive streak. I’d like to say that, but it would be wrong.