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I am writing a report where I want to say something like:

The number of structures in the PDB has been steadily increasing, with nearly 140 thousand structures currently available. However, this number feigns in comparison to the number of unique protein sequences that have been discovered, with over 210 million unique sequences present in the UniParc database.

However, I am not sure about the "this number feigns in comparison to" part. I have a feeling that I am using the wrong word here, but googling around didn't give me any leads.

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53

Pales in comparison, I suspect.

To pale in comparison is to look weak, small, meagre, or inferior compared to something else. Pale here takes the little-used sense to become smaller. It's the same pale used in the common phrase (less common in the U.S.) pale into insignificance, whose meaning is obvious. (says Grammarist.com)

http://grammarist.com/spelling/pale-in-comparison/

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    The "existing" one was not there when I started typing my answer. Look at the times. – Michael Harvey Apr 29 '18 at 21:43
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    I tend to be hesitant to "improve" other people's answers because I don't know that my idea of an improvement agrees with their idea of an improvement. Stackexchange isn't Wikipedia. – littleO Apr 29 '18 at 22:54
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    K. Upvotes for you both, then. – Mathieu K. Apr 29 '18 at 23:27
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You are probably thinking of "...fades in comparison to..." which is a less common variant of the idiom "...pales in comparison to..." and carries the same meaning. It is used more often in British English than in American, but is still a less popular alternative to 'pales'.

'Fades' is similar in sound to 'feigns' so it seems more likely to be the intended word than the more dissimilar 'pales'.

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    Agreed that 'fades' is probably what was intended, but 'pales' is the better choice of idiom. – Simba Apr 30 '18 at 14:57
15

This is likely a confusion between feign and faint.

This number is faint in comparison to that one.

The meaning is the same as to pale in comparison. To be pale or faint is to be indistinct against a background or to be nearly transparent: a metaphor for being insignificant.

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    I think 'fades' is more likely to be the intended word. – Jack Aidley Apr 30 '18 at 14:17
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Feign is a synonym for "fake" or "pretend", and like those words, it usually requires an object. You would never say that you are feigning without specifying what it is that you are pretending. For example:

  • I really wanted to buy the car, but I feigned indifference to get the salesman to lower the price.
  • My opponent was expecting a left jab, so I feigned an uppercut to distract him.
3

I would be inclined to say "this number pales in comparison..."

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    So would I, GR67. However, if this question is considered on-topic on a site aimed at linguists, any answer should have reasonable supporting evidence. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 30 '18 at 20:27
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    Also, this adds nothing to the two earlier-posted answers that had already brought up this phrase. – David Richerby May 1 '18 at 17:22
  • My apologies Edwin & David, I'm new to StackExchange and still learning the ropes. I did not see the two earlier-posted answers that were identical to mine. The requirements to advance as a contributing user in conjunction with the singular architecture of the site have made it a bit more time-consuming for me. Thank you for your responses, I will catch up soon. ~Strat – greenstrat67 May 4 '18 at 19:14
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I thought I would leave the following as I typed it, but I have changed my mind. Ideally, one would say that, “the [protein] is an order of magnitude greater …”. Unfortunately, this would require re-ordering the paragraph, and the current order is better. So… skip to after the (second) line.


For my money, “pales etc.” is just not a strong enough expression here. “Pales in comparison with”, I venture is used when the first case is impressive, but the second case is so much greater that it makes the first case look entirely unimpressive. An example might be that company X has 140,000 PDB structures, but company Y has 600,000; it is not just somewhat better, but indeed makes the other look… er, pale. Again: “I can run the mile in 7:05, but this pales in comparison with Matthew, who can do it in 5:17.”

I would suggest here, perhaps, “is an order of magnitude smaller than”. This is about, for example, 10^5 vs 10^6, or 10^5 vs 10^7. (One can resort to saying, “several orders of magnitude” if comparing (e.g.) computer storage in 1980 with computer storage today.)

I would say that the expression, “pales in comparison with”, connotes [implies] the same order of magnitude — connotes that the things being compared might have been expected to be about the same — my mile in 7:05 is pretty good for a typical person, but Matthew is an elite athlete who has been training for a year. (This is not to say that you can not say, “pales in comparison with”, about something that is 1/10th as good; one might say, “The {imaginary machine gun} fires 400 rounds per minute, but that pales in comparison with the {imaginary machine gun}, which fires 5000 rounds per minute”… although (again) these are both machine guns.)

That is to say that — although 140 thousand is indeed impressive — (I venture) it is implicit that they are of the same order of magnitude.


I am thinking, then, that you might say, “pales into insignificance beside” [noting that Michael Harvey mentioned this], which is a way of making the expression stronger, or… “is trivial in comparison with”.

  • I appreciate your thoughts on using "pales" Carsogrin. Using "magnitude" in some way crossed my mind, but considering the context in which his descriptor is needed, I thought it was too far removed contextually and imparted more of a scientific air to the comparison than was needed. ~Strat – greenstrat67 May 4 '18 at 19:25

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