Q: I become a little apoplectic (alright, my husband would say very apoplectic) whenever I hear or read “any other” illogically cropped to “any,” as in this passage from Timothy Snyder’s newsletter: “Russia has done more for the cause of nuclear proliferation than any country in the world.” Am I being needlessly pedantic?
A: No, we don’t think you’re being pedantic. That sentence from the Yale historian’s newsletter is dissonant to us too, though it doesn’t give us apoplexy.
The comparison is off-kilter because it contrasts an individual entity (“Russia”) with a group it belongs to (“any country in the world”). The two have to be exclusive for the comparison to make sense: “Russia” vs. “any other country in the world.”
Faulty comparisons like that one aren’t rare. And they don’t cause misunderstandings as long as we know—as we do with that example—what the writer intends. He doesn’t mean to imply that Russia isn’t a country.
However, not all comparisons using “any” instead of “any other” are as easy for a reader to interpret. Some can be ambiguous and leave us wondering. We’ll make up an example:
“She is better qualified than any European candidate.” If we don’t know anything about the person, we might assume she’s not European. But if she is European, this is a misleading comparison that should read, “She is better qualified than any other European candidate.”
What purpose does “other” serve here? It separates the individual from the group, allowing for a legitimate comparison.
Not many usage guides comment on this. An exception is Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (4th ed.). The editor, Jeremy Butterfield, says that comparisons using “any” can be marred by “a fine net of illogicality.”
He uses this example, then corrects it: “a better book than any written by this author (read any others).”