Why does ‘less than’ mean ‘not’?

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scherz0
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Why does ‘less than’ mean ‘not’?

Postby scherz0 » 2024-04-02, 8:21

These esoteric quotations merely asseverate, but don't teach, WHY 'less than' means 'not'. 1. Please explain in plain simple English?

2. What semantic notions underlie 'less than' with 'not'? All emboldenings are mine.









Linguaphile
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Joined:2016-09-17, 5:06

Re: Why does ‘less than’ mean ‘not’?

Postby Linguaphile » 2024-04-02, 15:14

scherz0 wrote:These esoteric quotations merely asseverate, but don't teach, WHY 'less than' means 'not'. 1. Please explain in plain simple English?

2. What semantic notions underlie 'less than' with 'not'? All emboldenings are mine.



The question of why "less than" means "not" is more understandable if we use an example that involves something concrete rather than an abstract concept like kindness

He has less than a full bag of apples. = He does not have a full bag of apples.
In other words, he might have some of the components of a full bag of apples (maybe he has a bag with a few apples inside), but he doesn't have enough of them for it to be considered "a full bag of apples."

But the same concept is working here with "kindness":

He is less than kind. = He is not kind.
Again: he might have some of the characteristics of kindness, but he doesn't have enough of them to be considered "kind".

Usually when we say this about something like kindness, we mean he isn't kind at all. Probably he doesn't have any of the characteristics of kindness. But it can be considered a more polite way of saying "he is unkind" because the phrasing does leave open the possibility that he has at least some of the characteristics of kindness, so it is not as harsh as directly saying "he is unkind", even though we know this is probably what the speaker really means.


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