Contamination can happen with any surface that touches meat, like a counter top, she says. "There's nothing special about these bags than anything else that can become contaminated," she says.
[from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128105740&sc=tw June 25, 2010 ]
I’ve often seen ‘than’ used in contexts where comparison is only implicit and not explicit, and it’s certainly used very frequently with ‘different’, which isn’t comparative but does seem a close relative of comparatives – at least it always involves an implicit or explicit contrast with something. But “special” is not only not a comparative form, it doesn’t usually involve any second contrasting term – in that respect it’s similar to ‘unique’. I probably sometimes do say ‘different … than’ in casual speech, but never ‘special than’ nor ‘unique than’.
But it’s perfectly easy to make sense of; I would conjecture that for speakers of ‘special than’, ‘than’ has expanded its function so that it can not only introduce a comparative phrase or clause but can also substitute for “in contrast to”, “compared to”, or “relative to”. How is that different from its use in comparative constructions? Well, in those we have ‘-er’ or ‘more’ introducing the comparative meaning, and ‘than’ introduces a clause or phrase providing the second term of the comparison. The comparative construction thus involves two function-words, ‘more’ (or ‘-er’), and ‘than’. This extended ‘than’ seems to pack two functions into one function-word: it introduces the notion of relativity or contrast, and also heads a phrase specifying 'relative to what'.
Wait, there’s another hypothesis to consider, especially once I start looking at google result. Googling on “special than” while excluding “more” and “less”, I find such examples as these (total about 7000, some spurious, not all native English speakers):
- What makes the history of Panama special than other countries?
- Tears r special than smyls bcz smyls u giv 2 any1 bt tears u share wt ppl u love …
- Question: What makes San Francisco so different and special than …
This other hypothesis is that ‘special’ may be construable by these speakers (who I think are a minority) as inherently comparative, ‘more special’, and then 'than' is identical to the standard 'than' of comparatives. (Reminds me of my fifth grade teacher trying to convince us never to say “very unique”; also of Orwell’s Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.)
Except that doesn’t explain ‘different than’, since I don’t think anyone would suggest that it’s equivalent to ‘more different than’, and one of the Google hits has ‘different’ and ‘special’ conjoined, followed by a single ‘than’. So maybe the first hypothesis is better, that for these speakers ‘than’ can pack all of ‘compared to’ or ‘relative to’ into one word. And that hypothesis would also have going for it the fact that to express the same thing in a dialect like mine would require something more wordy and probably a bit pedantic sounding, like ‘there’s nothing special about these bags compared with anything else that can become contaminated’.
Oh no, I just checked and found that ‘unique than’ also occurs (about half as many as ‘special than’, also quite a few spurious, and some pretty clearly not native English), examples very similar to those with ‘special than’. I had no idea!
- So it makes it unique than other DTH ..
- makes each pair one-of-a-kind as being hand made, each is slightly unique than the others. …
- The Jazz feel in most of the songs makes it different and unique than all traditional Indian Pop albums currently in the market.
- Our relationship with God is unique than family, friends, co-workers, etc.
- How to make my vampire boarding school novel different/ unique than Marked by P.C Cast?
And while the first and fourth ones of these would fit the second hypothesis — "unique" = "more unique", the second probably wouldn't — it seems much closer to 'slightly different than/from', since its author probably wouldn't claim that each pair was slightly more unique than the others. And the third and fifth have conjunction with 'different', also fitting the first hypothesis better. Maybe both hypotheses are right and there are two sources for the extended 'than'. (I'm a professional linguist but not a professional dialectologist or usage maven, so if there's research on this topic, I hope someone will mention it.)
Hmm, do I have to go check ‘equal than’ (without ‘more’) too? I can’t imagine … but I’d better look. Whew, the only relevant hits there seem to be variants of “greater or equal than”, a natural compression of “greater than or equal to”, I guess, since the whole thing is a relation.