I heard young Tom Daley, the Olympic diver, use the expression “times it by” in a TV interview after his event.

Times it by? Times it by?

What superannuated numpty taught him this phrase?

Why employ it at all when there is a perfectly usable adult word, the proper mathematical term, which someone of 14 years of age – hell half that – ought to have no problems in using if they had been told it properly in the first place?

I assume the thinking process behind employing this horrible construction is that “multiply” is too complicated a word for children to cope with.
But why is it necessary to talk down to children in this way?
Does it really make the manipulation (sorry, I used a five syllable word there; I of course meant times-it-bying, only four syllables after all) easier for a child to understand by describing it in a childish way?

I know we refer to times tables, but the process is not called timesing, is it? (See how ugly this becomes?)

In any case it might be better to say, for example, 4 lots of 6 make 24, or four multiples of 6 give you 24, rather than 4 times 6 is 24.

Even if “times it by” were generated by children themselves they ought to have been told, “We don’t say that. We say multiply instead,” in much the same way you would correct a child who said buyed in place of bought.

Think how different phraseology would have been if this ugly usage had always been in vogue.

Be fruitful and times-it-by; and replenish the Earth? Hardly trips off the tongue.

Bobby Darin got it correct.

Multiplication. That’s the name of the game.



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  1. Martin McCallion

    Hi Jack,

    I’m surprised that you’re surprised by that. It was common among schoolkids when I was at school in Balloch 35 years or so ago. The teachers taught us the correct term, of course, but kids make their own language.

    Although I suspect, rather than slang, that ws an example of either kids who hadn’t learned the correct word, or who had picked the term up from older siblings or parents, and so on back through the generations. It was, of course, used mainly by the less well-educated kids.

  2. jackdeighton

    I wasn’t actually surprised by the phrase. It’s common too where I work in Dunfermline, though I don’t remember it from when I was at school in Dumbarton. That was a long time ago now, however, and I may have been insulated from it as I went to the Senior Secondary (note to readers in other parts of the UK = Grammar School) but I don’t remember it from my primary days either.
    I’ve hated the phrase ever since I took up teaching; the interview just gave me an “in” to the post. It was the thoughtlessness of how it was said, for consumption on nationwide telly, that really surprised me.

  3. doctorvee

    Did you just say “telly”? :O

  4. jackdeighton

    Yes. I was commenting informally to someone more or less the same age as me and using an abbreviation common when we were younger.
    I would not, however, say “telly” on nationwide television.

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