Lesser mortals?

I have been editing documents like a maniac this past week because I took on more than I can chew in my head.  All these documents are academic research papers, mostly in fields of science and engineering and sometimes in management.    These documents are usually written by students who have not had basic English education and have learnt the language along the way.  Many of these documents are very difficult to understand, and so, I have to spend a lot of time, trying to unravel complex, inappropriately worded sentences to understand the crux of the matter, and rewrite them without changing their meaning.  Sometimes, I get documents to edit by English speaking people, who don’t know that they are sending their document to a non-English native speaker and get offended when I suggest corrections.  Challenging job, I have.

But that is not what this post is about.

I notice that of late, many youngsters use the word “lesser” extensively, as a comparative term.  Being old-school, I believe “lesser” to be archaic and to not be used unless you want to burn in hell.  But as I said, I am archaic myself.

My question is this. Is “lesser” used in English speaking nations as a comparative term these days?  For example, is “the value of A is lesser than that of B”, while making me want to gouge my eyes, accepted among native speakers now? I ask this because  I recently edited a document by an American student (a true blue midwest white boy), who used it that way.

Would appreciate a reply from a native English speaker.

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10 thoughts on “Lesser mortals?

  1. Carol

    I would not use it that way, but it’s been many years since I was a student. I would use it this way “considering the values of A and B, the value of A is the lesser of the two..” in the sentence as structured in your question, I would use the word “less”.

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    1. gobblefunkist Post author

      Thanks Carol. That helps.
      “considering the values of A and B….” is a sentence that I would edit simply to “the value of A is less than that of B”. But I understand the point you are making.
      I notice that management people use the complicated form more often, and when I simplify the sentence, they are hesitant to take my suggestion because it sounds less important than before.

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  2. Hangaku Gozen

    In US math curriculum the term “lesser than” is commonly used in comparing values. But now that you brought it up, I can’t think of many other situations where the term is used. “He is the lesser man in this fight” or “the lesser of two evils” are where it sounds right: but it also sounds…archaic? Victorian? It’s not a very contemporary term. I don’t say,”I want the lesser of the two varieties of ice cream.” I say I want the cheaper variety, or the less fancy kind, or the smaller amount. Modern English is more context specific, I think.

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    1. gobblefunkist Post author

      The use of “lesser than” in math is making my toes curl. I am certain that the “lesser than” is grammatically wrong – Math or not. “Lesser of” still makes me uncomfortable, but I can live with it, I suppose. Thanks to you and Carol, I have a clearer understanding of the difference between “less” and “lesser”.
      Ah.”Lesser of the two evils” – I had forgotten this phrase I use often enough. Mostly while comparing my kid and my husband.
      I’d still rather not use “lesser” unless I am quoting a cliched proverb, I suppose.

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  3. Meg Sorick

    Good morning! Even in the mathematical world it’s “less than” not “lesser than” and I just consulted my engineer husband to confirm. The term “lesser’ is certainly not used in everyday speech except for the above mentioned saying: the lesser of two evils. So in your example: A is worth less than B, the value of A is less than that of B, are more correct. The way you simplified that sentence is perfect!

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    1. gobblefunkist Post author

      Thanks Meg. I was curious because suddenly so many people are using “lesser” inappropriately. In fact, a news channel used it in its headline news, which made me wonder if I was missing some language-evolution.

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