I got a whole slew of questions from one member of the Peanut Gallery today on my recent Tip of the Day concerning the subtle difference between “reduce” and “shorten.”
Could there be an exception if the item being shortened is not linear? Non-linear lengths (and the perimeter of closed shapes) all have a length, so would you shorten or reduce a length of zig-zag or perimeter fence? The same may also apply to a route, such as taking a shortcut that reduces distance as well as time. Are there similar exceptions for references to time? Does driving faster
or taking shortcuts ‘reduce’ my driving time or ‘shorten’ my driving time? What about areas and volumes? Are they reduced or shortened? Can typed areas and volumes be shown as cm2 and cm3 or do I need to make the numeral a superscript? Would this be different for informal emails vs. official reports?
The short answer (pun intended) is this: Shorten works with a single dimension and also with zig-zags, as in the case of a shorter fence. However, it does not work in two dimensions (area) or three dimensions (volume), which would be reduced rather than shortened. In the case of a perimeter, the area is 2D, so you would reduce the area, and that would require a shorter fence around that area. Time is still 1D (as far as I know), so taking shortcuts to get to work faster would shorten the time spent in your car as well as shorten the distance.
As for the superscripts for area and volume units, do use the Format, Font, click the Superscript box method in Word to use cm2 and cm3 in official reports. This is perhaps not necessary in informal emails.
Flashback in 1D Time:
Remember typewriters? Superscripts required a slight twist of the wrist to move the barrel a half line, type the numeral, then turn the barrel back one notch.
Back to the Present:
The same 1D vs. 2D/3D rule applies to increase and lengthen.
I took what I thought would be a shortcut, but the detour I encountered actually lengthened my drive to work. (1D zig-zag)
The new offshore agency actually increased the acreage offered in the Gulf lease sale. (2D area)
The volume of hits on my blog has increased to more than 100 per day. (3D volume in cyberspace)