"As" vs "Like"

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"As" vs "Like"

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Fev 8, 2009, 8:44 pm

I have only just started reading some of the posts here, and I want to add my own pet peeve. "Do it like I do," "It's just like I said before." Phrases like that drive me a bit nutsy. In both cases it should be "as", not "like". When a verb (or part of a verb) follows, one always uses AS. I know there is something about a copulative clause and a non-copulative clause, but let's not get into that! Just remember: "Winston tastes good AS a cigarette should"!

Fev 9, 2009, 8:15 am

Do you have a hard time understanding or communicating with people who use like instead of as? If not, what's the problem?

Fev 9, 2009, 9:45 am

Like I "embedded" in my sons' linguistic psyches: "provincialisms usually alienate someone in your audience." Perhaps TV (which I seldom watch) has helped spread "Valley Girl talk". Much like "awesome" which doesn"t "copulate" well with me.

Fev 9, 2009, 10:06 am


Is "like" or "as" the "provincialism" in "It's just ___ I said before"? Because I have a fairly strong suspicion which is the dominant usage in American Standard English. I don't know if I'd go so far as to be "alienated" by someone who used "as," though.

Fev 9, 2009, 10:33 am

The challenge is to use language which is correct and enjoy reading skillful language, which is correct, while communicating. It is true one must know ones audience. For me, the primary consideration is to communicate well.

Fev 9, 2009, 1:22 pm

I think some language pet peeves are losing battles. And I think this is a prime example of one.

Fev 10, 2009, 3:04 am

As (like? ;-) a non-native English speaker, I've never thought about "as" and "like". But one thing is sure: in the examples given in the opening post, I would definitely use "as". disquod should be happy to hear that English is still properly taught—at least—abroad.

Fev 10, 2009, 9:58 pm

How about "nukular", from our recent chicken hawk?

Fev 11, 2009, 6:18 am

I often wondered about "nukular". Was he the only one who pronounced it so, or was it commonly such in the USA?

Fev 11, 2009, 6:23 am

I know a fair number of American nuclear Physicists, and they all say 'nuclear'.

Fev 11, 2009, 6:32 am

Thanks MarthaJeanne - that's a relief!

Fev 11, 2009, 6:57 am

I think I would say "Do as I say not as I do" because that's a fairly well known phrase used by parents/teachers faced with awkward children. But if #4 is implying, as I think it is, that "like" is the dominant usage in American English I think that's probably true in British English as well.
As an aside I'm just reading a book by a man called Eisenmann and came across the word "precisified". Ugh!

Editado: Fev 11, 2009, 9:38 am

I think the obvious next question is: was there ever a time when "like" and "as" were used as #1 would like them to be, or is that just the recency illusion at work? I'm tempted to Ctrl+F my way through various Gutenberg .txt files, but haven't worked up the motivation just yet.

Fev 11, 2009, 9:22 am

#8/9: I knew a lot of kids in high school who said "nucular." Our chem teacher would yell at them about it all the time. I have no idea where it comes from, but it's definitely out there.

Fev 11, 2009, 9:46 am

In the title essay to Going Nucular and a dialogue with Pinker in NYT op-eds and Language Log posts, Nunberg argues that nucular is an affectation: people use it with arsenals, but not families. Language Hat takes the ordinary phonological development side.

Oh, and People Who Should Know Better.

Fev 11, 2009, 10:23 am

Using "like" where "as" belongs is a substandard usage that has been so reinforced by TV, famous for dumbing down the language, that "like" has become irritatingly common and may actually be misused that way more the the formerly correct "as".

Even that misusage pales in comparison with "newcuelar", however, because it totally ignores the spelling: nuclear.
The fact that our former(praise be!) president mispronounced it tells us something about his usage in general--as if he had not made it obvious from the beginning.

Fev 11, 2009, 11:13 am

If the clause is reduced all the way to a NP, like does become mandatory, for almost all speakers. The problem with the rule that says that this is the only permitted use, needed to cover verbless reductions like “In art, as in life, ...,” is that it doesn't cover NP+PP where the PP does not modify the NP. The example in Cambridge Grammar of the English Language is “She took to it like a duck to water.”

As for the history and effectiveness of this rule, the OED says, “Now generally condemned as vulgar or slovenly, though examples may be found in many recent writers of standing.” Quotations include the c1530 “Ye have said lyke a noble lady ought to say.” and Shakespeare's “Like an arrow shot from a well experienst Archer hits the marke his eye doth leuell at.”

Fev 11, 2009, 11:39 am

>16 erilarlo:: "like" has become irritatingly common

Is there any evidence that this usage used to be uncommon? There may be, but for some reason my first intuition is to be skeptical.

Fev 11, 2009, 11:45 am

Okay, I have a Gutenberg file up, but I don't understand this soi-disant "rule" well enough to be able to tell whether the authors of the "good old days" are following it or not.

Is it that when Jane Austen writes in P&P,

"They have none of them much to recommend them," replied he; "they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters."

she is being grammatically correct (for #1's value of "correct"), but

"They have none of them much to recommend them," replied he; "they are all silly and ignorant like other girls are; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters."

would be incorrect, and should be

"They have none of them much to recommend them," replied he; "they are all silly and ignorant as other girls are; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters."


Fev 11, 2009, 6:09 pm

Do you mean this sort of thing, PossMan (12)? It's from "Long Words Bother Me".

Precisifying everything at once makes it always false to say of a vague term that it is definitely vague. (No term is vague on every complete precisification, because no term is vague on *any* complete precisification.) But we can truly assert that a term is definitely vague if what it means is that *on all precifications of 'vague'* the term in question counts as vague.

If precisification worked this way, 'Definitely ...' would function differently on different occasions of use. It would always have the same truth-conditions as 'On all precisifications of the salient term(s) ...', but which term(s) are salient will change. Presumably context would help us determine which term(s) are salient on any particular occasion.

Editado: Fev 12, 2009, 7:42 am

#20 Rood: Well it came from The New Testament Code a book which I've just put down despite being less than a quarter of the way through. I've tried to find it ('precisified') again so I could quote it in context but afraid I can't find it. Glad I got the book as a remainder at a fraction of the normal price. My comment (#12) was based on the fact I've never come across this word as a verb — I would say "made more precise" or some such. Faced with your extracts I'm clearly in the wrong although I hope I'm right in thinking that you give the quotes as examples of obscure, opaque, pretentious nonsense and not to clarify. Eisenmann's book must be one of worst written books I've ever had the misfortune to buy although I should have known after struggling with his book on James.

Fev 12, 2009, 12:09 pm

16 - Language changes, and usage precedes the formalization of grammatical rules. Is it vulgarity that our own grammar differs from the grammar of Beowulf? Some grammatical distinctions matter and others don't, and you can't determine which ones are which by appealing to treatises; you have to actually listen to people communicate with one another. This is just a nitpicky rule that would make communication more cumbersome without engendering a corresponding uptick in clarity. It ought to be abandoned; that is, if it was indeed ever the standard usage to begin with.

Fev 13, 2009, 2:30 pm

Yeah, I have to admit that I know the difference and mostly pay attention to it when writing; but sometimes in casual conversation, or even in writing, "as" now sounds stilted.

Fev 15, 2009, 11:03 pm

Sarah Palin says "nukular" as well. So much for her!

Fev 15, 2009, 11:09 pm

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Fev 16, 2009, 12:31 am

Re: 'Nuclear'... I honestly don't see how it could be difficult to say "new" then "clear" (as I think someone else mentioned above). Could it be more difficult to pronounce it in USAn English than in 'British' English do you think? (I speak a variant of the latter.)

Fev 16, 2009, 12:37 am

It is three syllables in most of the United States. That vowel-vowel syllable boundary could be problematic.


Fev 16, 2009, 1:28 am

Wait, it's not "new-clear," it's "new-clee-er," right? Definitely 3 syllables.

Fev 17, 2009, 10:27 am

Well, when I try the right and wrong versions of nuclear, the wrong one requires MORE jaw movement.

Fev 17, 2009, 10:38 am

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Fev 17, 2009, 3:41 pm

My sympathies. . .

Fev 17, 2009, 4:53 pm

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Fev 19, 2009, 1:34 am

Like Sarah Palin was saying, "Purty soon we'll all be sayin' Nukular, You betcha." (wink)

Fev 21, 2009, 9:14 am

#30: Well, now the faux Texan, the "perp" of "nuculer" is "linguist in residence" at SMU and is available for consultation.

Jan 9, 2010, 9:13 pm

#19: In your first example, Austen would be considered "correct" because "other girls" contains no verb. In the second example, "like" should be "as" for the same reason, but in #3 "as" is fine because of the addition of the verb "are".

Jan 10, 2010, 3:22 pm

#33: I understand that Tina Fey is entering politics--Sarah Palin clone!

Jan 13, 2010, 3:10 pm

My Grandma's originally from Texas (Dallas area) and she says nukuler. The usage note in my American Heritage dictionary says the pronunciation is influenced by the more common -cular sound as in vascular and particular.

Jan 13, 2010, 7:50 pm

new-kew-lar has no real relationship to the spelling. I certainly can't believe people who would USE a word like "vascular" would mangle "nuclear" very often. Some people have picked it up from those who mangle many words, like our thankfully-past president.

Jan 14, 2010, 7:22 am

Not only is he "past-president", he is now permanently established as our resident linguist in his "so called" research "institute at SMU in Dallas. I am wondering, if, in the up-coming primarary election campaign, which candidate wil orally articulate "nucular" in order to garner tha immense vote of that "native" accent vote. Surely as both are former college footbal cheer leaders, one of them is bound to lead a yell for "nukuler!" QED

Jan 14, 2010, 9:22 am

This says something I hate to believe of the majority of Texans and their use of our language.

Jan 14, 2010, 9:37 am

>40 erilarlo:, It's *their* language too, you know.

Jan 14, 2010, 2:28 pm

>41 polutropon: We must bear in mind, though, that Texas is the only state in the Union which was once a totally independent nation. I think they still speak Texan there. English and Texan are mostly mutually intelligible. Mostly.

Jan 14, 2010, 4:14 pm

>42 msladylib: Wasn't California independent for a week or two after they threw off the Mexican yoke?

Jan 14, 2010, 4:35 pm

>43 paulhurtley: Yes, California was independent briefly, until the United States overran it. The president served for 22 days, I think. Hardly enough time to be considered established!

Texas, on the other hand, existed as a nation-state from 1836-1935, enough for four (or three, depending on how you count Sam Houston) presidents to hold office, and for longer than some other nation-states in this world, for example, the Republic of Upper Volta. There are probably other examples on the African continent, too.

Jan 14, 2010, 5:55 pm

Hawaii was an independent kingdom for awhile.


Jan 14, 2010, 11:37 pm

The only reason that Texas does not detach itself, and go floating off into the Gulf of Mexico, is because Oklahoma sucks. California "grew" as a large populated state because of Okie immigrants.

Jan 19, 2010, 12:49 pm

I agree with Erilarlo, but I would like to present a more specific case. TV and advertising in general have far too great an influence on common usage. There leverage on what we say is greatly disproportion to their knowledge and motives. Often, people do not choose one word for another because some general ripple in the language floats it; rather the change occurs because some marketer decides that it will sound informal, down-to-earth, or cool.

"Winston tastes good/
Like a cigarette should."

There you have it in all its pristine hideousness. It is a usage propagated not for clarity but rather for gain. That it involved lies and promoted lung disease and death are merely coincidental, although they have a metaphorical resonance.

Until that ad got the upper hand, the distinction between "like" (used as a preposition) and "as" (used as a conjunction) was clear.

Jan 20, 2010, 7:02 am

#48: That's a very good treatment. I've not come across that book before.

Jan 20, 2010, 9:44 am

As I have posted before, the current proliferation of the use of the "modifier", "awesome" grates much like a pebble in my shoe. I think some sports announcer, searching for a description of some football feat used it and now it is sort of like smog in coversations. Well, even the OED gives it a legitimate precedence going back to the 1500s, as a substitute for "awful". I maintain that, as presently used, "awesome" is AWFUL. QED

Jan 20, 2010, 11:52 am

>50 Naren559:
It's rather worse than having it grate as a pebble, Naren559, if it is heard as "ossum". Perhaps Americanophones find this laziness more acceptable than we Brits do?

Jan 20, 2010, 2:07 pm

#50: I've said this before here, but - "awesome" is part of my vocabulary, and has been for a few years now, but here's the thing: I consciously decided to bring awesome back. Among my peers, awesome was ancient, SO nineties, SO out. And I didn't want to say "wicked" or "cool" or - god, nowadays everyone's saying "epic" and I refuse to even TOUCH that one - I wanted to be original, hip, and a little sarcastic. Saying "awesome" was total 90's flashback and achieved the hip sarcasm I wanted.

It actually surprises me to hear anyone complain about it because, like I said, where I'm from it's ancient enough to be brought back.

...maybe I'll try to bring back "swell." My grandfather's high school yearbook is full of "Good luck to one swell fella." "To one swell football player." "To a swell guy." It'll be harder to bring back, though. Being hip and sarcastic by being SO 90's is easier than doing so by being SO 40's, you know?

Jan 20, 2010, 2:22 pm

>52 ambushedbyasnail:, I've been known to say "totally rad."

Jan 20, 2010, 3:42 pm

#52 Oh so 1500s!
#53 Totally Frigid!

Fev 21, 2010, 11:01 am

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Fev 22, 2010, 10:29 am

Whatever satisfies "yall".

Fev 22, 2010, 1:41 pm

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Fev 22, 2010, 1:46 pm

Ah, but what is "all ya'll"?

Fev 22, 2010, 1:48 pm

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Fev 22, 2010, 3:03 pm

With slight noblesse oblige, I do address a "royal we". If you ever come across the current issue (3/19/2010) of "Texas Observer", I would encourage you to read Ruth Pennebaker's article "Still Dancing With Who Brung Me" (on page #27).