Verbal Energy

As we say, an old standard still holds

A rule we thought would be gone by now, the one about avoiding like in favor of as, proves more durable than expected

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    Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, speaks about his intention to stand for Parliament at next year's general election.
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Editors can be closely enough attuned to language to see it change before their very eyes, even as they are professionally charged with maintaining the status quo of grammar and style – at least until the next edition. 

Oh, the drama of it all! The heartbreak of seeing a hard-won position crumble on the page!

Perhaps a dozen years ago, I harrumphed in-house about the need to hold the line against use of “like” as a conjunction in our published copy. In other words, don’t say, “Like he said, the sky is blue.” Say instead, “As he said, the sky is blue.” Exceptions were to be made for direct quotations, especially from people who don’t consult our stylebook before opening their mouth.

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A colleague said he appreciated my efforts but thought the distinction I sought to maintain would be gone within a few years. In my heart of hearts, I had to admit I thought he was probably right. 

Lo, these many years later, I’m not so sure.

Despite many indications of general civilizational collapse all around us, the like/as distinction seems to be holding on better than we might have expected, at least in the world of professionally edited writing. I’ve just done a quick search of “like he said” and “as he said” on Google News. (This was meant to bring up results that have had a little more professional attention than those of a generic Web search.) 

“As he said” creamed “like he said,” with a score of 5,470 to 1,860. And the “like” hits included examples where “as he said” wasn’t an option, such as this, from AllAfrica.com: “ ‘We are still at the stage of stopping the war,’ not trying to hammer out what a transitional government for South Sudan would look like, he said.”

Meanwhile, over on the “as he said” tab of my browser, I find The Standard being maintained by publications as diverse as (1) The Guardian (“[London Mayor Boris] Johnson, asked ... if he had plans to return to the Commons, insisted that, as he said ‘about a billion times,’...”); (2) the Houston Chronicle (“[Jeremy] Lin acknowledged he struggled with the move to come off the Rockets’ bench, but as he said immediately after the season...”); and (3) the splendidly named Lovely County Citizen, which reported on the efforts of local public safety officials to inspect a system of 100-year-old tunnels running beneath the City of Eureka Springs, Ark.: “[A consultant] was to accompany the spelunkers through the tunnels, but realized quickly after entering, as he said, that he is ‘a little larger and a little older than some of those guys.’ ”

So I’m going to declare The Standard holding, at least for now. 

And flooding hazards aside, don’t you want to live in Lovely County? Don’t you want to be that citizen?

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