Yesterday, we had One Big Happy‘s Ruthie and James at cross-purposes on the meaning of bigger (Ruthie was bent on teaching arithmetic, while James wandered into other territory). Another exchange today, on higher:

From yesterday:

The adjective big and its comparative form bigger are understood with reference to some scale S: X is big if it’s towards the high end of S, and X is bigger than Y if it’s higher on S than Y is. What distinguishes Ruthie and James is the S that they’re appealing to. For Ruthie, S is the ordering of natural numbers 1, 2, 3, … (which makes sense in the strip, since the context is a discussion of arithmetic), but for James, it’s the ordering of written symbols according to their physical size.

So it is for high and higher: X is higher than Y if it’s higher on S than Y is. For Ruthie, teaching very elementary arithmetic, S is once again the ordering of natural numbers 1, 2, 3, … But for James, this time it’s the ordering of objects according to their distance from the ground: standing on a box makes everything higher. (James could have gone for voice pitch and counted in a higher voice, though that would be hard to show visually. No doubt you can imagine other ways of counting higher, involving marijuana for instance.)

The point here is that these positive and comparative adjectives don’t come with a fixed S; they are unspecified as to S, and people choose an S to fit the context they’re in. In a kind of passive resistance to Ruthie’s pedagogical ways, James seems determined to avoid the numerical scale as S.

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