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Skydiving cats cause uproar (YouTube video, starting at 1m57s):

We did dig up one snippet of video of a real cat skydiving. Four years ago, a member of a Russian parachute club sewed a jumpsuit for his cat. The cat seemed calm till right before they leaped. But after landing safely the owner said, "He, the cat, didn't even pee himself unlike a lot of people do the first time they jump."

I have a problem with the word unlike in this passage. Don't you think that it actually should be like? With unlike plugged in there, the sentence actually doesn't make much sense semantically, if you think about it for a second. I have a real hard time comprehending this sentence with unlike. What do you think about this?

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  • If it said "like", that would mean that most people don't pee themselves the first time. Using "unlike", it Rams the cat didn't pee, while most humans usually do. – Catija Apr 28 '15 at 22:58
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You're right that "like" would have worked grammatically. "Like", in comparisons, can also be substituted with "as". The owner could have said "He didn't even pee himself, as a lot of people do when they jump," and made perfect sense.

http://www.grammarly.com/handbook/grammar/adjectives-and-adverbs/26/misuse-of-like-and-as/ offers several illustrations of this, including:

"No one makes chocolate cake like my mother does."

Because there is a verb after like (does), the conjunction as should be used. It’s easy to say that about this sentence because as can be replaced by the way.

"No one makes chocolate cake the way my mother does."

"No one makes chocolate cake as my mother does."

"Like/unlike" in this sentence grammatically refers to what "a lot of people do when they jump", not to what the cat did or didn't do. Whether you phrase it as "he didn't even pee himself, as a lot of people do," "the way a lot of people do," or "like a lot of people do," it clearly works.

However, "unlike" also works.

This GMAT tutorial demonstrates that we can say things like "Unlike a baked potato, with a full gram of potassium, a banana has only about 600 milligrams."

If he had said, "A lot of people pee themselves the first time they jump; unlike them, my cat didn't," it would have made sense. The problem isn't the "unlike".

There are a number of other problems making that part of the sentence sound "off" -- combining "unlike" with "a lot of people do", instead of with a negative, is a big part of it. "Unlike they do" is an interesting construction, but not a grammatical one. The fact that it's a run-on sentence is also a problem.

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I think I see why you find the sentence odd.  It took me a while to see it.  The "unlike" seems perfectly natural to me, and the awkward "do" escaped my notice at first.

Let's consider some alternatives:

  • The cat didn't pee himself, unlike a lot of first-time jumpers.
  • The cat didn't pee himself in the way that most first-time jumpers do [pee themselves].

I imagine that these two very different sentences are both understandable.  I further imagine that they both match your expectations.  The second can be transformed in a manner that I imagine you will anticipate:

  • The cat didn't pee himself like most first-timers do.

And there's the "do".  As I'm thoughtlessly reading the original sentence, my natural expectations are met, up to a point.  I expect a pattern similar to my first example sentence.  The cat is unlike a lot of people.  Then you start parsing things in a quite logical fashion.  The cat doesn't do what is unlike what most people do.

If that "do" didn't exist, everything would be fine.  Alas, there it is.  And now we're stuck interpreting the sentence as "The cat didn't pee himself like many people do [pee themselves]."  But, the word is "unlike".

So, is the real comparison between the cat and the people (which are unlike in regard to whether they took that action) or the action that the cat didn't take but many people do (which -- un-negated to simply positive -- is simply like)?  
 

I have to agree with you, at least in part.  The speaker misspoke (or the transcriber mis-wrote, or whatever).  You and I differ only in the way we want to correct the sentence.  You want to change "unlike" to "like", which I think undermines the contrast that the speaker intends to highlight.  I'd rather throw away one small word that seems to contribute nothing but confusion.

If it helps you to understand my position, let me say that, as a native speaker, I had to read that sentence several times before I even noticed that the "do" is there.

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  • The presence or absence of "do" is not so simple. "No one can make chocolate cake like my mother does" and "No one can make chocolate cake like my mother" both seem fine (in British English). "No one can make my mother like chocolate cake" is also fine, but the meaning is rather different!. Chomsky said it first: "Time flies like an arrow" and "Fruit flies like a banana". "No one makes chocolate cake as my mother" sounds wrong to me. It seems to be comparing the cake and the mother, not comparing the cake-making skills of different people. – alephzero Apr 29 '15 at 1:21
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You could use either 'like' or 'unlike' in that sentence and probably be understood, but the punctuation and/or phrasing could be better. The way it's written it's unfortunately ambiguous, but a native speaker would likely understand that the cat didn't pee, whereas most people would have.

When speaking, the distinction would be made by a pause.

With a pause, indicated in writing with a comma:

He didn't even pee himself, unlike a lot of people do the first time they jump.

I would probably leave out the 'do' in this version. I think the reason for this is that while 'like' can be used as an adverb, 'unlike' generally isn't. 'Do' is acting as a pro-verb for 'pee himself' (which would be 'pee themselves' since the subject is 'people'). So, substituting for 'do', we have:

He didn't even pee himself, unlike a lot of people pee themselves the first time they jump.

Which sounds pretty awkward, as 'unlike' - an adjective - is comparing two actions, peeing oneself and not peeing oneself. Removing 'do', we have:

He didn't even pee himself, unlike a lot of people the first time they jump.

In which case 'unlike' - an adjective - is now comparing a cat that didn't pee with people who did, which are both nouns.

Without a pause:

He didn't even pee himself like a lot of people do the first time they jump.

Here, the do is optional, as 'like' is comfortable being either an adverb or an adjective. For completeness:

He didn't even pee himself like a lot of people the first time they jump.

My Preference

For what it's worth, I prefer the version with 'unlike', a pause, and no 'do'. I think this does the best job of clearly communicating the contrast.

He didn't even pee himself, unlike a lot of people the first time they jump.

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Both like and unlike are grammatically correct, however they both have different meanings. "He, the cat, didn't even pee himself like a lot of people do the first time they jump." implies that a lot of people don't pee themselves the first time they jump. - Although this sentence is grammatically correct, the speaker uses unlike to say that a lot of people do pee themselves as a first time jumper.

I can see why you're confused, and I think it comes from the "didn't", the "do" and trying to make the comparison word (like or unlike) agree with both of them. (or it just doesn't sound right)

I believe a better way of phrasing what the guy meant in the video is:

"He, the cat, didn't even pee himself, unlike a lot of people the first time they jump." In other words, to omit the "do". It frees up confusion and creates a slightly less complex sentence (I believe) and these in turn allow people to understand what you mean.

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"He didn't pee himself as a lot of people does when they jump for the first time." would also be correct.

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    Actually, that isn't correct. It should be "people do" and not "people does". Do you have any thoughts about how unlike is used in the original sentence? – ColleenV May 1 '15 at 0:28

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