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People use decreased activity (for example) where decrease in activity would be more literally correct. For example, reasons for my decreased activity usually refers to reasons for a decrease, not to reasons for activity (as the phrase parses literally); likewise, His decreased activity is cause for alarm usually means that the decrease in his activity is alarming, not that his activity, albeit decreased, is.

This kind of figure of speech seems to be some kind of metonym, but I wonder whether there's a more specific figure-of-speech category that covers it.

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    One expression is no more correct than the other: In "decreased activity" the noun (and subject of the phrase) is "activity", and "decreased" is an adjective that qualifies it; In "decrease in activity" the "decrease" is the noun (and subject of the phrase), and "in activity" qualifies it. Which you choose to use depends on the point to which you are trying to draw attention: in the first construction the decrease is parenthetical, of secondary importance, while in the second the decrease is definitely the point of the sentence and "in activity" just serves to make it clear which – julianop Oct 25 '13 at 4:43
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a peeve. – MrHen Jan 8 '14 at 15:50
  • @MrHen, did you read the second paragraph? – msh210 Jan 8 '14 at 16:59
  • @msh210: I did, yes. – MrHen Jan 8 '14 at 17:10
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    @msh210: I think you shot yourself in the foot by implying the usage is somehow "incorrect". Obviously decreased implies current activity is less than it was/less than normal, and it's that reduction/deviation from standard which causes alarm. It would be the same with "His rapid pulse alarmed me". Would you seriously suggest there's something wrong with that too, and that to be more literally correct it should be "The rapidity of his pulse alarmed me". That would be English, Jim, but not as we know it. – FumbleFingers Jan 8 '14 at 17:41
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Oxymoron

Others include:

Big baby, jumbo shrimp, calmly shouted, carefully swerved, open ended, etc.

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    This site prefers well reasoned answers to questions. Please explain how you consider the example in the question to fit with the definition of oxymoron. – TrevorD Oct 15 '13 at 12:29
  • Decrease and activity have opposite connotations in terms of their general concept. "Decrease in activity" is the more literal meaning of the figure of speech "decreased activity" which joins two dissimilar concepts into a distinct concept in itself. – Colin Oct 16 '13 at 2:55
  • I still don't understand the relevant of that to the answer you have given above. – TrevorD Oct 16 '13 at 13:26
  • Oxymorons are two dissimilar or opposite words that are to some extent contradictory but are used together in a figure of speech that stands as a concept in itself – Colin Oct 16 '13 at 17:56

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