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Please, take a look at the following:

"Friends" and "foes" are, according to Carl Schmitt, defined in function of their capacity to respectively enhance or diminish the power of one's own state.

Does "in function of" equal something along the line of "in relation to"?

I'm aware that the "in function of" thing was once covered here, but I'm afraid there was no answer there I'm now looking for.


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"in terms of" would be more idiomatic for this AE speaker. – keshlam Mar 8 '14 at 18:14

Yes, in your example it does equate with in relation to.

You could reword it this way to understand it a little better

Their capacity to respectively enhance or diminish the power of one's state is the function that defines friends and foes.

'Because of' would do the same job even more simply in your example.

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My guess is that it's a combination of "in relation to" and "as a function of". In this sentence, they would mean more or less the same thing, which is undoubtedly what the author means by "in function of".

I also don't see how to make an argument that "in function of" is grammatical, and not just a mistake. If enough people started using it, then it would become grammatical, but it's currently quite rare. (See Ngram.)

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I assume the intended sense here is "according to", as per Mark's answer. But you'd presumably be the right man to answer the question of whether (as implied by OP) it could ever be an acceptable usage in some mathematical context. Am I right in guessing the answer to that one is "Probably not"? – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '14 at 16:36
I wouldn't consider it grammatical; of course, a lot of scientific papers are written by non-native English speakers, and the phrase "in function of" does seem to appear in a lot of science papers. I wonder if it's a literal translation from some language. – Peter Shor Mar 8 '14 at 17:07
Yeah, I thought it might be something like that. I suspect the particular prepositions we do use in these constructions are somewhat arbitrary. There's also in respect of, and we used to have in regard of that's given way to with regard to for no obvious reason, so it's a credible "error" even if it's not down to "translation". Present company excepted, I imagine many "scientists" don't care too much about the English, so long as they get the language of mathematics right (the only "real, true" language, as some would say! :) – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '14 at 17:29
"As a function of" is the common term in mathematics (e.g. x expressed as a function of y, etc.). I'm pretty sure this "in function of" is, as Peter suggests, a literal translation from the Romance languages. Although I still think "according to" is closest in meaning, it's not the best answer in this particular case as you end up with a double "according to"! :-) – Mark Raishbrook Mar 8 '14 at 23:52

Portuguese has an identical expression (em função de), which I would usually translate as "according to" or "based on". I think "according to" is probably closest to the meaning in your sentence.

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Yes. Your assumption is correct.

But, it is worth noting that function of means the same here as it does in mathematics. The in is just a preposition that doesn't significantly alter the meaning. (i.e. You could have said by function of and preserved the meaning.)

You have two entities. They are either friends or foes. There is some theoretical algorithm by which they diminish or enhance one another. And depending upon the relative value of this equation they are friends or foes.

It is, of course, ridiculous to assume that this is a simple equation where you can merely plug in some values and get a number, compare to a chart and decide friend vs. foe.

So, this functional relationship is really an attempt to describe a complex psychosocial relationship in simpler mathematical terms that are easier to grasp. In essence, it is a metaphor (as on some level are most equations … they have to make assumptions for variables that are not readily measured).

So, in summary: in function of is semantically equivalent to in relation to but these are both mathematical terms even if their use is effectively metaphorical.

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I get it. I said "not-math", because the issue was once covered, and it was then about math, but for me it was useless, BECAUSE it was about math, and I was more about how to rephrase it in regular English, and... you see :) – jules Mar 10 '14 at 13:31
@jules I understand your frustration. Believe me I wasn't trying to be pedantic and prove you wrong. I was just showing you that trying to avoid math is not helpful. Math is the hidden language of everything we do, and so unfortunately, it powers language, too. You'll see this come up on this site a lot if you stick around. – David M Mar 10 '14 at 13:39

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