Saturday, November 01, 2008

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Not half bad

Half a score ago — twice as long as it seems — some colleagues and I were talking about the characterization of a sound as being “twice as quiet” as another. What, we mused, does that really mean?

It seems to mean what we’d usually describe as “half as loud”, of course. But does it really make sense to describe it as “twice as quiet”? We measure loudness, but do we measure quietness?

We can talk about one thing’s being “half as large” as another, but does “twice as small” make sense? Can something that’s half as far away be “twice as near”? How much does something cost if it’s “twice as cheap”?

I can be twice as old as you, or about half as old as a centenarian. Am I, then, “twice as young” as he is?

Twice as shallow, twice as new, twice as short, twice as few.

We tend to measure the presence of something, or the abundance — and not the absence or dearth thereof. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to compare the aspects we don’t measure. Even though we kinda-sorta know what’s meant.

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

3 comments:

Ray said...

Not to be picky - well, alright, to be picky - half a score of what?

Barry Leiba said...

Well, years; I elided that bit.

Dr. Momentum said...

Often, we'll describe a reduction in terms usually reserved for increases when some effort goes into the reducing. In a way, we're indirectly describing the effort, not the effect.