at the detriment

michael13

Senior Member
Chinese
When I was at school, my teacher told me AT THE EXPENSE and TO THE DETRIMENT are English, TO THE EXPENSE and AT THE DETRIMENT are not at all.

But a book Indian Trails, Military Roads, and Waterwheels by Paul Edward Derby has a footnote:

-The term development is placed in quotes throughout this work because the conventional understanding of development is progress or improvement. However, as will be argued in chapter five, Euro-American 'development' often came (and still does come) at the detriment of the natural environment, which thus begs the question as to whether it was improvement.

How should I decide whether a phrase like this is correct or wrong? Is there any etymological reason to support TO against AT?
 
  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Euro-American 'development' often came (and still does come) at the detriment of the natural environment
    This use of 'at' is perfectly correct and the sentence which contains it is perfectly good English.
    When I was at school, my teacher told me AT THE EXPENSE and TO THE DETRIMENT are English, TO THE EXPENSE and AT THE DETRIMENT are not at all.
    Is it possible that your teacher was referring to a particular context or type of context? With all due respect to your teacher and yourself, I do not know whether your teacher made such a qualification or not, or whether you may have missed it for one reason or another.

    The important point here is that the prepositions 'to' and 'at' have a range of correct uses which depend on the context. It is a mistake to link them rigidly with one expression or another. It is helpful to think of each word in a phrase as a unit which needs to fit into its own place according to its function, rather than to memorise fixed phrases.
     
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    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Google Ngram viewer gives virtually no results for "at the detriment" and numerous results for "to the detriment". As general as it is, I would follow your teacher's advice.
     

    michael13

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you, Paul and wandle. But, wandle, could you tell me the difference between AT/TO THE DETRIMENT? I can't find AT THE DETRIMENT in dictionaries, let alone example sentences.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I've never heard "at the detriment". Perhaps, based on Wandle's comment, that phrase is used in the UK. I've never seen or heard it in AmE; here, it's "to the detriment".
     
    I've never heard "at the detriment". Perhaps, based on Wandle's comment, that phrase is used in the UK. I've never seen or heard it in AmE; here, it's "to the detriment".
    I was about to say the same, Parla, but the other way round! Wandle's comment surprises me.

    The Fraze.it site claims to have found 84 examples of 'at the detriment', compared to 1034 examples of 'to the detriment'.

    However, of the former, only the first few are genuine examples of the collocation – the rest soon becoming further examples of 'to the detriment' with 'at' appearing earlier in the sentence.

    Nothing I have read above will persuade me that 'at the detriment' is natural and common.

    Rover
     
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    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    SRK, some of the Googled examples seem to me to be simple errors and should have been "to the detriment". In other cases, I think "detriment" wasn't the right word at all and what was meant was "at a disadvantage to".

    Just guessing . . .
     

    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Parla said:
    some of the Googled examples seem to me to be simple errors.
    If you don’t acknowledge “at the detriment” as correct usage, it seems to me to be begging the question to say that it is used in error.
    Parla said:
    In other cases, I think "detriment" wasn't the right word at all and what was meant was "at a disadvantage to".
    we are greedily enriching ourselves now at the detriment of future generations
    is from The Only Three Questions that Count by Ken Fisher. I don’t know the book and only know the context from the link I provided in post #7. He could have meant to say
    we are greedily enriching ourselves now to the disadvantage of future generations.
    but I have no way of knowing that. “Disadvantage” and “detriment” are close enough to one another that it is hard for me to say that one or the other should have been used.
    wandle said:
    Is it possible that your teacher was referring to a particular context or type of context?
    If Wandle knows of a context in which “at the detriment” does not work, I hope he gives us an example.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    At this link "Garner's Modern American Usage" there is the example sentence "...Microsoft would bundle its own applications into Windows at the detriment of competing applications". Garner holds that this is a conflation of "at the expense of " and "to the detriment of", and he disapproves.
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I've never heard "at the detriment". Perhaps, based on Wandle's comment, that phrase is used in the UK. I've never seen or heard it in AmE; here, it's "to the detriment".
    I've never heard 'at the detriment of' either and I am unable to find anything which will persuade me that it is correct. I personally agree with what is stated here (source: 'Garner's Modern American Usage' by Bryan Garner).

    Sorry, Velisarius.;)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    At this link "Garner's Modern American Usage" there is the example sentence "...Microsoft would bundle its own applications into Windows at the detriment of competing applications". Garner holds that this is a conflation of "at the expense of " and "to the detriment of", and he disapproves.
    I can't read your link, veli, but that seems right to me: I would also see "at the detriment" as a conflation of "at the expense" and "to the detriment" ~ and (at least as things stand at present) as a mistake....
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The phrase at the detriment seems to be outnumbered by to the detriment by at least 10 to 1.
    Compare, for example, the GloWbaE (Global Web-Based English) corpus at http://corpus2.byu.edu/glowbe/, which gives 216 examples of at compared with 3,603 examples of to. Nigerian English seems to be fairly fond of using at.
    In the UK there are 34 examples of at, including from The Guardian and the BBC, but 812 examples of to.

    The only conclusion I can reach is that it is a rather uncommon variant, which is new to me.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I've never heard 'at the detriment of' either and I am unable to find anything which will persuade me that it is correct. I personally agree with what is stated here (source: 'Garner's Modern American Usage' by Bryan Garner).
    Thank you, LondonCalling! I agree as well. Garner's is a much better explanation than mine. "At the expense of . . . " is the answer.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It seems to me that if 'to the detriment of' is a valid expression, then 'at the detriment of' cannot but be a valid expression too: provided, of course, that it is used in a suitable context; for example, with a verb of state rather than action, or one that is passive rather than active.

    Treating 'at the detriment of' as if it were an optional alternative to 'to the detriment of' would be a mistake, just as would be to put 'at the expense of' in place of 'to the expense of'. There is no lack of valid examples of 'at the detriment of'.

    Daily Post
    He said earlier this year that he believes the new planes are not necessary and will be acquired at the detriment of shareholders.

    The Hills of Triumph
    If I ever had a philosophy with which to govern my social life, even long after learning that social is often at the detriment of personal, it would have been no dfferent ...

    Educational Reform and the Transformation of Southern Africa
    At the same time, the emphasis placed on passing government-controlled examinations as a measure of educational achievement is done at the detriment of the actual learning itself.

    News - The Alliance of Private Sector Practitioners
    the universities will not be quick to drop their courses, because they know that the NHS will pay, even at the detriment of patient care.

    Slam School: Learning Through Conflict in the Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Classroom
    Contemporary versions of the journey to self can come at the detriment of a sense of commitment to others or of belonging to a larger collective.
     

    michael13

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you, wandle.

    The Hills of Triumph
    If I ever had a philosophy with which to govern my social life, even long after learning that social is often at the detriment of personal, it would have been no dfferent ...
    But I'm not sure whether this example you gave is convincing.

    Leaving the AT/ON issue aside, the writer uses a special type of mixed conditional, which inevitably gives me the doubt whether he/she cares about the use of grammar; but at the same time I notice the word EVER, which might sanction the use of that mixed conditional, so I hope others can tell me whether this can be a good example.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Leaving the AT/ON issue aside,
    If we leave that aside, it becomes a different question, which would require a different thread.

    There is no reason to doubt the validity of 'at the detriment of' in this case, since it works similarly to the other examples.
     

    michael13

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    If we leave that aside, it becomes a different question, which would require a different thread.

    There is no reason to doubt the validity of 'at the detriment of' in this case, since it works similarly to the other examples.
    Thank you, wandle. I thought it was relevant, because, to use that as evidence that AT THE DETRIMENT is OK, we have to make sure that example sentence has no grammatical mistakes first....
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Of course, it is better to use examples which cannot be faulted in other respects.
    Two points strike me on re-reading the page I took it from: that writer's use of English, while fluent, is at least not good style and is arguably somewhat loose; and in this particular case, there is some strain in using 'at the detriment of' with the verb 'to be' rather than a verb with stronger semantic meaning than the copula.

    On second thoughts, I would take the hint and discard that example.
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I'd use 'to the detriment of' in all the sentences you quote in post 17, Wandle. I am still convinced that 'at the detriment of', even if used with a verb of state or a passive verb, as you argue, is incorrect.;)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I'd use 'to the detriment of' in all the sentences you quote in post 17, Wandle.
    That would alter the sense to the detriment of the writer's intention, and of the style.

    'At' and 'to' are both correct, but they fit different contexts. They are not interchangeable.
    The same is true of 'at the expense of' and 'to the expense of'.

    The key point is that 'at' and 'to' are different words with different meanings, suiting different situations.
     
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    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I had thought that "at" and "to" were slippery enough in figurative use that there was an argument for either in these expressions in any context.

    Wandle, would you paraphrase examples with "to" and "at" to make the differences in meaning clear?
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The key point is that 'at' and 'to' are different words with different meanings, suiting different situations.
    I agree with you to a point, at is of place or point, whereas to is of movement and I agree that 'at the expense of' and 'to the expense of' are possible, "At my expense, I hired a horse for you, and now I have to pay more because, to my expense, you have ridden the beast lame!"

    But "my detriment" cannot be substituted in the at example or, if you do substitute it, the second "to my expense" becomes redundant:

    "To my detriment,I hired you a horse and you have ridden the beast lame!" as both actions are "to my detriment."

    With less certainty, I would add: To the detriment creates and moves a detriment towards the now disadvantaged - at cannot cope with this.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    But "my detriment" cannot be substituted in the at example or, if you do substitute it, the second "to my expense" becomes redundant:
    Why do that? 'Expense' means 'outlay'; 'detriment' means 'harm': these terms are not interchangeable either.
    Wandle, would you paraphrase examples with "to" and "at" to make the differences in meaning clear?
    The difference is not always easy to see.

    We can say (a) 'The increase in profits came at the detriment of employee morale'.
    This is equivalent to 'at the cost of harming employee morale'.

    It would not make sense in this sentence to say 'came to the detriment of'.
    at is of place or point, whereas to is of movement
    This is the essence of the difference, though I would say 'movement or change'.

    We can say (b) 'Any further pursuit of profit will work to the detriment of employee morale'.
    This is equivalent to 'will cause harm to employee morale'.

    Here, if we say 'will work at the detriment of', it would seem to mean 'will only work if employee morale is harmed': but that changes the meaning of 'work' and does not make good sense.
     
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