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Suchlike

It seemed to me when I posted the other day that Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage had pretty well demolished any gossamer distinction between like and such as, even though it lingers in journalistic superstition.

Besides, the AP Stylebook has no entry on it. Neither does Garner’s Modern American Usage. Burchfield’s New Fowler’s is silent on the subject. John Bremner does not bring up the point. Theodore Bernstein dismissed the objection to like in the sense of such as: “The argument is specious because like does not necessarily mean identical.”

But I see that my friend and colleague Bill Walsh finds merit in it, arguing in Lapsing Into a Comma: “The phrase players like Borg, Conners and McEnroe could be read as excluding the very players it mentions. If the meaning is “Borg, Conners, McEnroe and players like them,” you could phrase it just like that, or you could write players such as Borg, Conners and McEnroe.

One commenter on the post made very much the same point.

I propose a put-up-or-shut-up test, assuming that virtually all of you neglected to check out the Merriam-Webster’s entry I cited. Here are the eight examples from that entry. I have given you a choice of like or such as in each. Without sneaking out to see what the authors originally wrote, tell me what proper usage demands in each case.

 

“Attended” instead of “went to” is taboo with people [like/such as] Mrs. Worldly. (Emily Post)

... and you get more benefit reading someone [like/such as] Hemingway, where there is apparently a hunger for a Catholic completeness in life. (Flannery O’Connor)

Phrases [like/such as] three military personnel are irreproachable and convenient. (Roy Copperud)

It has been used in advertising copy [like/such as] the following. (Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage)

Avoid clipped forms [like/such as] bike, prof, doc. (Hans Guth)

... a mere box-office success [like/such as] Kiss and Tell (George Jean Nathan)

A writer [like/such as] Auden for instance, or [like/such as] Rex Warner, might do a fruitful parody. (G.S. Fraser)

... some very outre works, things [like/such as] Swift’s poem “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” (Paul Fussell)

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 4:15 PM | | Comments (11)
        

Comments

What the hell, I'll try...

such as, like, such as, such as, like, like, such as, such as, like

Fun!

Ok, here goes...

Like
Like
Such as
Such as
Such as
Like
Such as, Like
Such as

You could argue that "such as" is more appropriate for all of them since all eight objects are used as examples of a larger set.

But personally, I would use "like" for everything except Nos. 4 and 5, and there only for tone. I think "inclusive like" has become the rule and "exclusive like" the exception.

A few years ago I said I thought this was worded badly: "Funding for this program was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by the financial support of Viewers Like You." I said "viewers like you" meant people like you but not you, and was told, "Who could be more like you than you yourself?" I couldn't argue that. Was I right or wrong?

You have to work hard to find a reason to make a distinction. If I may force you to think about baseball:

"We're looking to sign a player like Cal Ripken Jr." (Good luck. There aren't many players like him.)

"We're looking to sign a player such as Cal Ripken Jr." (Isn't he like 50 years old now?)

I'm guessing this is a trick question -- they all used "like."

I'm with Maggie: the choice often depends on tone.

Metaphysically, an object or person is certainly like itself, so there's a logical argument for "inclusive like." Unfortunately, language is so rarely logical.

Yes, I was disingenuous. All the original examples use like. I thought it would be instructive to see people who think that there is a clear-cut distinction arrive at different conclusions.

“Attended” instead of “went to” is taboo with people [like] Mrs. Worldly. (Emily Post)

... and you get more benefit reading someone [like] Hemingway, where there is apparently a hunger for a Catholic completeness in life. (Flannery O’Connor)

Phrases [like] three military personnel are irreproachable and convenient. (Roy Copperud)

It has been used in advertising copy [such as] the following. (Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage)

Avoid clipped forms [such as] bike, prof, doc. (Hans Guth)

... a mere box-office success [like] Kiss and Tell (George Jean Nathan)

A writer [like] Auden for instance, or [like] Rex Warner, might do a fruitful parody. (G.S. Fraser)

... some very outre works, things [such as] Swift’s poem “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” (Paul Fussell)

Thanks for an interesting post: I liked the examples. I found that I chose "like" for single nouns, and "such as" for plurals. I apparently believe that "like" implies a one-to-one correspondence, a direct comparison of this one thing to that one thing. I have no way of knowing if this belief is accurate, or if I just came up with on my own. I doubt I would correct "such as" used with a singular, though. I don't have strong feelings about either usage.

I know I'm late to comment but I promise I didn't cheat.

such as
like
such as
such as
such as
like
like/like
such as

As I pointed out on Language Log some time back, "Birds like the American robin are very common in North America" strongly suggests the inclusive reading, whereas "Birds like the American robin are very common in Siberia" just as strongly suggests the exclusive one. Generalizations are always unsafe, and invariably lead to bad reasoning. Context is all.

I know I always look to public broadcasting, especially their "enhanced underwriting," for proper grammar. And did you notice the passive voice?

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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