January 14, 2010

Language tips: premier/premiere & compare to/with

Posted in compare to/with, premier/premiere at 11:31 am by dlseltzer

Weekly Language Usage Tips

Today’s WLUT is going to be brief due to the somewhat cruel grant deadline some of us are currently under in our attempt to respond to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ’s) Requests for Applications on comparative effectiveness research which are due next week. Some refer to this particular exercise as ‘survival of the fittest.’ I won’t argue that just now. But I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

Tip 1: Premier or premiere?

In one of these grant proposals to AHRQ, I ran across this sentence:

This seminar series is the premiere showcase for presenting the results of cardiovascular research at the University.

So what’s wrong with this sentence? Well, I guess I gave it away in the title of this tip. It is really simple but often forgotten.

Premiere means the first performance or first appearance.

The premiere performance of the new opera based on the Babysitter’s Club series of books will be on March 22.

The premiere issue of the new scientific journal, Impossible but True, will be on newsstands in the summer.

Premier means first in status or importance. (It can also mean a prime minister or head of state, but I’m not concerned about that sense of the word.)

The premier show dog at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was crowned ‘best in show.’

And the sentence above should really read:

This seminar series is the premier showcase for presenting the results of cardiovascular research at the University.

If you have a hard time remembering which is which, think of this: premiere (the first performance) refers to a form of entertainment, and entertainment starts with ‘e.’ Will that help? It’s just a thought.

Tip 2: Compare with or compare to, reprised

A reader writes:

Thanks for this blog. As a medical journal editor, I owe much of my language skill to this. Please help me with the use of ‘compared to’ versus ‘compared with.’ Thanks.

Well, we talked about this before, but it was way back in 2008. So it’s time for a reprise.

While often used synonymously, there is, in fact, a nuanced difference between the two.

“Compared to” is used when you want to emphasize similarities.

In terms of excess and flash, I would compare Paris to New York.

If in doubt, replace the words “compared to” to “likened;” if “likened” makes sense in the phrase, you can use “compared to.”

In terms of excess and flash, I would liken Paris to New York.

“Compared with” is used when you are examining the similarities or the differences.

To determine its authenticity, the printed cell image was compared with the actual cell image.

When I compare Paris with New York, I think of the crazy traffic in New York and the wide boulevards in Paris.

As a general rule, “compared with” is more often correct than “compared to.”

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