Special than

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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.


  1. Boris said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

    You might well be right with one or more of your hypotheses (based on special immediately followed by than), but the original example could just as easily be a case of the speaker forgetting which word she used by the time the "than" comes around. Especially since I don't think she really means "more special than". It's more of a conflation of "There's nothing special about these bags" and "There's nothing about these bags that makes them different than (from?) anything else that can become contaminated".

    I know I might say something like that in unguarded speech even though I don't have any of the new meanings of special and than mentioned i the post in my idiolect.

  2. Barbara Partee said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

    @Boris — I agree that forgetting how one had started, and ending up with a blend of two constructions, is common. But in this case the other construction is "different than", and that really seems to use an 'extended 'than" as well. I didn't say much about "different than", but I would conjecture that its 'than' is an instance of the hypothesis-one kind, 'than' meaning "compared to" or "relative to". So I would guess that when you or I use "different than" in unedited colloquial speech, we're using that kind of extended 'than'.

  3. Randall said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

    The hypothesis about special being inherently comparative to a speaker rings true with me, because when I read the sentence, I assumed it was a typo, and the word "more" was supposed to precede special.

    In your treatment of unique, it does seem that the second case feels like "from" was replaced with "than", and as such it doesn't work the way the others do for me, as they are all instantly comprehensible to me.

  4. Barbara Partee said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

    Ooh, isn't it cool that we have a place where we can ruminate about how some of these usages arise without worrying about prescriptivist poppycock? I know lots of people would wince at some of those examples (there's a part of me too whose first reaction is sometimes to wince at the ones I wouldn't do in edited writing, though I've long since learned that it's much more fun to think about where such things come from), but in this forum we don't have to worry about them. I'm already enjoying this conversation greatly.

  5. Kris said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

    The statement does sound awkward to me as it has been constructed. However, had she said "There's nothing [more] special about these bags than anything else that can become contaminated", it would sound much better to my ear, even if it is still sounds bad to others.

    I cannot think of a specific instance, but I do know I have use "more special than…" when comparing two things of value/importance to me.

    Maybe I will try out "more special than" on my friends later tonight and see if it catches any of them off guard…

  6. Thena said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

    Sorry, my inner prescriptivist is jumping up and down screaming "THAT'S WRONG! THAT'S JUST WRONG!" and frothing at the mouth.

    I'm going to go have a nice cup of tea now before I break the internets. :-)

  7. Joe Fineman said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

    One explanation for "different than" is that "different" has become a sort of free-floating comparative: it is short for "bigger or smaller or better or worse or more or less or…". Evidence for that is that "different" these days is often intensified with "much" rather than with "very".

    Another explanation is that "different" has taken over some of the functions of "other" & therefore naturally imitates its syntax. Almost any child, asked for the opposite of "same", would say "different" rather than "other", and asked for the opposite of "different", would say "same" rather than "similar". One reason for that usurpation is probably that "other" cannot be used distributively: one cannot say "The two of them are other"; it has to be "different" or "not the same". At any rate, it has happened.

    At any rate, "different than" seems much different than the anomalous "than"s that are the main subject of this thread. They are all new to me.

  8. koj said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 7:53 pm

    I agree with some of the previous posters in that most of these examples seem like an accidental deletion of 'more', rather than a deliberate construction, at least in the case of the native speakers. This is an especially easy error to make when writing online and making quick edits.

  9. Adouma said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

    On 'unique than', although the examples above don't work for me, replacing them with 'unique from' makes them perfectly acceptable. I can't think if this is a common usage or not. It certainly sounds like something my English teachers might have scowled at, though.
    [n.b. Googling "unique from" brings up around 500,000 results, but just less than half of the ones on the first two pages are irrelevant.]

  10. Elizabeth Braun said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

    Just missing the word 'more', that's about all.=)

    Funny, I've just done a short tirade on 'different than' etc on my blog!!

    Grammar these days is a disgrace and, what makes it worse is that the bad habits are spreading like wildfire through the English speaking world with umpteen UK people now taking on common errors from over the pond. Grrrrrr!

  11. Barbara Partee said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

    @Joe – thanks, those look like very relevant lines of explanation for 'different than', and new to me. But to your comment that the ones I discussed seem very different 'than' "different than" I would re-emphasize that in the googled examples, both 'special' and "unique' showed up sometimes conjoined with 'different', so I don't think their 'than's are necessarily so very different from 'different than'.

  12. James said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 8:28 pm

    Very nice explanations indeed for "different than". I'd always wondered about that.
    For me, "different than" still has the "not in formal writing" feel. But I feel differently about "differently than". I think this is because "differently from" sounds just terrible to me:

    ?? The Japanese play the violin differently from us.

    Do other people feel entirely comfortable with "differently from"?

  13. Randall said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 8:40 pm


    I would feel the need to rephrase that in any formal writing, as "The Japanese play the violin differently than we." Part of this is because I prefer ending sentences as if the implied verb were there.

    That sentence, with different, would be written by me as: "The Japanese play the violin in a different manner/fashion/way than we." You'd need to give different some sort of referent for it to work for me.

  14. James said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    Randall, yes, that's about how I feel too. In fact, I'd try to avoid it by writing "… in a different manner from ours." But "… differently than we do" doesn't sound too bad to me, and I suspect it's because "… differently from …" sounds terrible. And I'm wondering if others get the same ?? reaction to "… differently from…"

  15. Thena said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

    (alas, my inner prescriptivist is winning.)

    different from (or different to, UK marker) "This is different from that."

    differently than "I do this differently than (I do) that."

    special / unique "Well, isn't that special?"

    more special / unique than (the latter construction satisfies my grammatical urges but trips my 'aaaugh, wrong WORD' trigger.) "This is more special than that but the other one is most special."

    different – as an absolute "Gee, that's different" (but not generally "more different than" unless explicitly comparing degrees of difference in some calculus of comparison.)

    to differ from – "X differs from Y in that (explanation goes here)."

    The other structures are just… just… *twitch* Not My Dialect.

  16. MJ said,

    June 25, 2010 @ 11:37 pm

    Possibly there's a seed of a trend here owing to the common dictate that certain adjectives can't be made comparative. "Preferable than" without, e.g., "more" or "less" is not uncommon. It may be sort of a conflation of "preferable to" and "more/less preferable than."

  17. Rick S said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 12:51 am

    @Joe Fineman: The same/different opposition isn't limited to children, I think; I would give the same answers. Didn't we all get kindergarten exercises (or Sesame Street lessons) asking us if two things were "the same" or "different"? To me, the same/different and same/other distinctions seem like an effect of "same" polysemy.

    @James: Either "The Japanese play the violin differently from us" or '…differently than we do" is grammatical in my idiolect. I'm surprised that others find the former questionable.

    In fact, I'm also surprised to find that the latter is acceptable to me, since I never use 'different than' (except when I lose track of which mode of contrast I started with). Yet 'differently than' doesn't bother me. I wonder if this could be a vector through which others have back-formed 'different than', even if I haven't (yet)?

  18. Ben said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 2:22 am

    I am tempted to believe that a majority of the examples found are just the result of editing errors. I certainly can't say I've heard any of them spoken, and they don't make intuitive sense to me as a new kind of usage either. And I top of that, it's easy to see how such forms could arise by simple written editing errors (accidental blending of two phrase structures in the first example, or accidental word omission in many of the others).

    Of course, this is just what I'm tempted to think; I don't have the resources to measure this objectively. Can someone who has access to a transcribed speech corpus test how often these constructions appear spoken?

    Or maybe I should say, "I suspect that they will appear in written form often than spoken form".

  19. Ben said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 2:39 am

    II think the first example is especially likely to be merely the converging of two different phrase structures, because I find it difficult to image that the author had any intention of using "special" comparatively. Either proposed hypothesis would have the author saying something like "these bags are not more special than other contaminatables" (I just coined that word), but that would imply the author had some idea of an amount of "specialness" that each of these things had, and had decided that the amount of specialness assigned to the bags was not more than the amount of specialness assigned to the other contaminatables. This doesn't make a lot of sense. It seems much more likely that author simply meant "There is nothing special about these bags", but halfway through started going down the path of "These bags are not different than other contaminatables."

  20. Ben said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 2:48 am

    Actually, re-reading the post, I see I completely misread the first hypothesis. Using "than" as a substitute for "in contrast to" would actually make the author's statement perfectly reasonable. Nonetheless, I'm still tempted to believe it was likely an editing error.

  21. John Walden said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 9:26 am

    I wonder if there is 'implicit comparison' in the cases of "other than" and "else than", neither of which are that removed from "different from/to/than". "Else but" seems more formal than "else than" but there doesn't seem to be an alternative to "other than". Perhaps because that '-er' hints at a comparative?

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=other suggests that there is only the slightest touch of the comparative about "other" and that a long way back.

  22. Mark Liberman said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    At first I leaned towards the special ≈ different theory. If than has come to mean "compared to" or "relative to" for some people, I thought, then you'd find things like "…is unusual than others". And surely you don't, at least not from native speakers. But a little web search turns up:

    Can you please have a look at the alert.log file just in case? Do you see anything that is unusual than normal?

    Margate is a girl unusual than others. She doesn't want the usual run of the mill life. She wants action packed adventure, and she gets it.

    Do you have many annoying pop-up ads that are not possible for your normal pop-up blocker to block, and that look very unusual than normal pop-ups?

    Of course, it's possible that unusual ≈ different for some people… Evidence:

    It's not so different, weird, or unusual than their other albums

    She said that afterwards she felt nothing different or unusual than she normally felt.

    Then again, there's always "rather than" as a model.

  23. Barbara Partee said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 10:03 am

    Oh, I had completely forgotten about "other than" — and "than" is the ONLY possibility there. So that's a clear case of "contrast" but not obviously in any sense comparative — a good 'source' for hypothesis-one uses.

    And I also hadn't thought about "differently than". I'm with those for whom 'differently than' is completely acceptable, in editing writing as well as in speech, unlike 'different than', which I don't consider part of my dialect though I wouldn't be surprised if I sometimes use it unconsciously. Does anyone know WHY 'differently than' should be so much better than 'different than'? I certainly don't. Is it because 'differently' happily takes a full comparative clause ('than we do') and 'different' doesn't? But why is that? (It seems that way — I guess to me 'differently than we do' is 100% fine, while 'differently than us' is considerably better sounding than 'different than us' but not 100%.)

    So in exploring these various hypotheses we may need to pay more attention to 'contrast CLAUSES' like 'than we do', 'than he is', etc, and 'contrast PHRASES' like 'than us', 'than this one', though as has long been known, there are elliptical contrast clauses like 'than we' which look like phrases, and if it's not a pronoun with its case showing, you can't always tell a phrase from an elliptical clause — 'than this one' or 'than John' can be either. But the difference is relevant, since I think "other" takes only a phrasal complement — in that case "than" is clearly a preposition. And it may be that adjectival "different" really wants just a phrasal complement, as evidenced by the standard dialects' choice of 'different from' (US) or 'different to' (British).
    But I think it's not only 'differently' that can take a clausal contrast clause — I think 'different' in predicative uses can too: "He looks different than he used to" sounds not bad to me, unlike "He looks different than his picture", which my inner prescriptivist dislikes. Similarly for "The program was different than I expected" — almost ok (in writing I'd probably go for "different from what I expected"), vs. "This week's program was different than last week's" (not good in my dialect).
    So now I would conjecture that my hypothesis one, 'than' to indicated 'contrast', relates to PHRASAL 'than X', and has "other than" as a fully grammatical model, whereas my hypothesis two, an implicit (or 'missing') "more", would relate primarily to CLAUSAL 'than …', or maybe to both, since comparatives take both. But that doesn't yet explain the difference between 'different' and 'differently'. I think I'm starting to blather, I should shut up and go eat.

  24. Mr Punch said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 10:17 am

    No doubt there are several things going on here, but one of them is that for many reasonably well-educated Americans (at least), "than" can indeed mean "compared to." I hear it all the time.

    "Different to" (chiefly Br.) is interesting in that "special to" and "unique to" are not parallels.

  25. Mr Punch said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 10:25 am

    To clarify: "different to," "special to," and "unique to" mean three different (and no doubt special, if not unique) things.

    "A is different to B" means (in Britain) that A and B are not the same.

    "A is special to B" means that B cherishes A.

    "A is unique to B" means that only B has A.

    I have seen "special" used in the same sense as "unique" in this construction, but rarely.

  26. Mark Liberman said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 10:30 am

    Mr. Punch: "…for many reasonably well-educated Americans (at least), 'than' can indeed mean 'compared to.'"

    But if this were literally true, then e.g. "Was the Titanic large compared to modern-day ships?" could be rendered as "Was the Titanic large than modern-day ships?"

    And though intuitions are often wrong in such cases, I'd be willing to bet a substantial sum against the proposition that "many reasonable well-educated Americans" talk or write that way.

  27. Barbara Partee said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    To Mark — but isn't it plausible that "large than" is blocked by the availability of "larger than"? These extended or borderline cases we're exploring are words that aren't normal comparatives and don't take comparative form (at least not without a change of sense, I think).
    This started out (for me) just as a curiosity — now I'm getting curiouser and curiouser about the semantics of these words that aren't comparatives and yet do involve some contrast, differentness, etc.
    Oh, and I had also forgotten all about "rather than". Is there a way to find a list of words other than comparatives that take "than-complements"? (I feel embarrassingly naive asking. I'll just plead lack of time to figure it out myself — I have to get ready for a Moscow-to-US flight in the morning.)

    [(myl) The OED has

    2. a. Than is regularly used after other, else, and their compounds (another, otherwise, elsewhere, etc.).

    b. Hence sometimes after adjs. or advbs. of similar meaning to ‘other’, as different, diverse, opposite, and after Latin comparatives, as inferior, junior: usually with clause following. Now mostly avoided.
    different(ly) than is not uncommon, esp. in the U.S., but continues to be regarded by many as incorrect.

    …along with some other cases that are characterized as "exceptional or peculiar".]

  28. James said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    But, Barbara, we don't find

    "Ian is British than Nigel"

    either, despite the unavailability of "Britisher".

  29. Barbara Partee said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 11:52 am

    Oh, sorry, I was unclear — I didn't mean only morphological -er. "Ian is more British than Nigel" is the available standard comparative in that case, and would equally block using "than" by itself.

  30. Barbara Partee said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

    I feel a need for experts on how language change proceeds, and on processes of "pushing the envelope". The uses of "than" that we're talking about aren't fully acceptable for many of us, but there's a gradient, and even when we don't like them we can kind of see where they're coming from, to the extent that I suspect that with a better handle on the data and some more time, one could improve on the tentative hypotheses suggested so far on this thread and approach something like an explanation for which forms are most likely to be sometimes used with "than". I don't know how to draw the line between 'likely to be used as a slip' and 'likely to be used as part of a gradual language change' — I think there's a difference, but it may not be a really sharp one. It might correspond to whether you would edit it out if you realized you'd produced it.
    And I wish I knew more about the interplay between the individual and society as language change gets under way — 'than' could be gaining uses through more than one path, especially given its double life as preposition and subordinating conjunction.

  31. John Walden said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

    "Rath(e)" and "rathest" have disappeared from English but that -er more than hints at the origin of "rather". I'd say it was a comparative.

    Googling around a bit I see that "except than" is widespread but can't tell if it's NNS usage or perhaps regional.

  32. mollymooly said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

    @Joe Fineman:

    "different" these days is often intensified with "much" rather than with "very"

    @William Shakespeare:

    This weeke he hath beene heauie, sower sad,
    And much different from the man he was

    Com. Err. Act V Scene i

  33. Mark Liberman said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 1:23 pm

    Barbara: "I don't know how to draw the line between 'likely to be used as a slip' and 'likely to be used as part of a gradual language change'"

    It's certainly possible that there's a change in the relative frequency of the various "exceptional or peculiar" uses of than, but it's clear that these mutants have been in the meme pool for some time, at low frequency, e.g. (from the OED):

    c1400 MANDEVILLE (1839) viii. 109 þei han also dyuerse clothinge and schapp..þan oþer folk han. 1754 J. HILDROP Misc. Wks. I. 91 They imploy their Wealth..to quite opposite Purposes than were intended. 1822 J. YATES Let. to Parr 19 May, in P.'s Wks. (1828) VIII. 250 Such a design..has a right to a far different head than mine. 1857 TROLLOPE Barchester T. III. xiv. 248 Things were conducted very differently now than in former times. 1902 Westm. Gaz. 19 Aug. 2/3 How about the following sentence? ‘Unless the London members behave differently about the Bill for London than the country members about the Bill for the country, reasons for postponement and consideration will begin to look weighty.’ If ‘than’ is excluded, how is it to be said? [Put ‘otherwise’ for ‘differently’, and retain ‘than’.] 1912 J. WEBSTER Daddy-Long-Legs (1913) 146 It's different with me than with other girls. 1962 D. LESSING Golden Notebk. 59 Both come from a different world than the housing estate outside London.

    1585 T. WASHINGTON tr. Nicholay's Voy. III. iii. 74b, There is almost nothing left then a shadow therof.

    1864 FROUDE Short Stud. (1867) I. 3 He had scarcely won for himself the place which he deserved, than his health was found shattered. 1903 F. W. MAITLAND in Camb. Mod. Hist. II. xvi. 584 Hardly had the Council been re~opened at Trent..than Elizabeth was allying herself with the Huguenots.

    1592 WARNER Alb. Eng. VIII. xl. (1612) 195 A Warrior braue: But than his Sier, himselfe, one Sonne of his, Like Polititians seldome liude. 1595 Trag. Sir R. Grenville (Arb.) 64 Then which the like was neuer heard before. 1602 G. BLACKWELL in Archpriest Controv. (Camden) II. 226, I can blame none so much for defect of Almes then Mr. Collington and his adherents. 1677 R. BOYLE Treat. Art of War 12 Their substantial Diet, than which, none..have so good. 1723 MANDEVILLE Fab. Bees (1733) II. 201 There is nothing in which our Species so far surpasses all others, than in the Capacity [etc.].

  34. Barbara Partee said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

    Mark, Thank you for both responses — I'm blushing not to have thought of looking in the OED; very glad you did.
    So these things aren't new, though apart from the very familiar "different than" I hadn't been aware of them – I guess they've been rather rare all along. And OED in the excerpts you inserted in red says "Now mostly avoided", suggesting that what you call these mutant uses are going out rather than coming in. I wonder. Anyway, interesting.
    And interesting that in it's entry #3, OED does not separate the uses related to 'other than' from the uses related to comparative meanings. Of course it's very hard to say explicitly what part the "than" is contributing in either case — it could indeed be the same.

  35. Barbara Partee said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    Ouch, I wrote "in it's entry". I could go delete it and redo it, but I'll leave it there and do public penance. [Even that, which is clearly just wrong, has a defensible side to it — it's a pity that we have to write 'John's' but 'its', but the rule is itself defensible too, since there's no place for an apostrophe in 'his', let alone 'our' or 'my'.]

  36. Xmun said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

    The genitive apostrophe is a newfangled aberration and ought to be abolished. You don't find it in Shakespeare. Compare his play titles, as given in the First Folio running heads:

    A Midsommer nights Dreame
    The Winters Tale


    Loues Labour's Lost
    All's Well, that Ends Well

    No doubt these are special cases, though . . .

  37. Joe Fineman said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

    Rick S: I mentioned what "any child" would say not to imply that adults would not say the same, but to emphasize how deeply the role of "different" as a substitute for "other" has penetrated into common usage. Most people, I venture to say, learn "different" long before they learn "similar". The *primary* role of "different" is in opposition to "same".

  38. Xmun said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

    @John Walden
    According to my etymological dictionary, "rathe" is cognate with Lithuanian and Middle Irish words meaning "I shake". Can you throw any light on this baffling snippet of information?

  39. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

    Then there is "sooner than later", often heard in my part of the world instead of "sooner rather than later". Probably too many comparatives for comfort.

  40. Sniffnoy said,

    June 27, 2010 @ 12:00 am

    I have to say, I *didn't* understand the sentence until I read the explanation. I have no problem with "different than", however. I have to wonder, would I have understood it if she had said "distinct than"? I'm inclined to think so.

  41. John Walden said,

    June 27, 2010 @ 12:01 am


    At a stretch I suppose there's a tenuous connection between earliness and weakness in plants, or even in foals and other animals. Or hut-building? We do say 'after a shaky start'. But I'm just guessing wildly. I really have no idea.

  42. empty said,

    June 27, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

    At first glance I thought I was going to read about one grammatical construction being contaminated by another.

  43. JimG said,

    June 29, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    The discussion is different than I thought it would have been.

    It seems to me that many speakers have weak control over use of "from" and "of" in these senses. This effect interacts with the shifts in usage such as 'graduate from' –> 'graduate'.

  44. ED said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 10:32 am

    I just wrote (spontaneously) a comment on YouTube, excerpted here: "they weren't as crispy than if they had been fried." I immediately thought back to this LL post, and just had to share.

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