September 1, 2011

Weekly Language Usage Tips: compare and comparable (to or with) & sweat

Posted in compare with and to, sweat/sweated at 7:05 am by dlseltzer

For this week’s WLUT, I wanted to follow up on some questions and comments that were sent to me about a recent discussion of compare to versus compare with and the past tense of sweat.

Tip 1: Comparable to or comparable with

Recap: Late last month, we discussed when to use ‘compare to’ and when to use ‘compare with.’ The gist is this: ‘compare with’ is correct in all situations of comparison whether looking at the similarities or differences or both.

I compared this cactus with the one in my office and found this one to be more amenable to water.

‘Compare to’ should be used when you are ‘likening’ one thing to another.

The professor compared the thesis to a wasteland devoid of beauty and growth.

A reader writes:

A follow-up question: does that mean it should always be “comparable to” rather than “comparable with”?

This is an interesting question. ‘Comparable’ is a little bit different from ‘compare.’ For the most part, though, the answer is yes. The most commonly used meaning of ‘comparable’ is ‘similar’ or ‘equivalent.’ When this meaning is used, the comparison has already been performed, and the items of comparison were found to be alike. When used in this sense, the usage should always be ‘comparable to.’

Your amazing finding is comparable to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone.

However, there is another definition of ‘comparable,’ albeit used less frequently, and that is ‘able to be compared.’ When this definition is used, one generally uses ‘comparable with.’

Books comparable with each other in terms of length are often not comparable in terms of quality.

A slight distinction, but it is worth taking note.

Tip 2: Cooking and sweating

Recap: In the same WLUT as the discussion above, I wrote about the past tense of sweat. When talking about sweating in the literal, physical sense, the past tense of ‘sweat’ is ‘sweat.’

I sweat so much yesterday that I think I lost a couple of pounds.

But used in the figurative sense, the past tense of ‘sweat’ is ‘sweated.’

Oh boy, we really sweated over that one!

Pretty simple, right? Well, a couple of readers pointed out that ‘sweat’ can be used in other ways as well. Here’s what one had to say.

A reader writes:

quick question…I sweat eggplant and some other vegetables (salt them to “sweat” the bitter humors out of them)….I can’t imagine saying that “yesterday, I sweat the eggplant”…I would only say “yesterday, I sweated the eggplant before frying,” so I wonder if the American English past tense refers only to the reflexive to sweat oneself and not to the verb to sweat something else.

This reader and the others who have done some sweating in the kitchen are absolutely correct. Sweating is also a cooking term that, in general, involves cooking aromatics (e.g., onion, carrots, celery, garlic, shallots) at a low heat in a small amount of fat to soften the vegetables and boost their flavor prior to a longer period cooking (usually in a liquid). With respect to eggplant, ‘sweating’ refers to salting the vegetable to release the moisture and bitterness and then rinsing or blotting the salt to remove it prior to cooking.

You have to admit, there is always something new to learn in the WLUT.

I think that it is a reasonable assumption that ‘sweat’ as the past tense is used reflexively, that is, the actor is acting on him- or herself and not on someone or something else.

Thanks to all of you who wrote about sweating in the kitchen.

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