Fans of French cinema will recall the ungrammatical title Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me. Rather than a free translation of the Truffaut movie’s French title (Une belle fille comme moi), it was actually a reversion to the title of the original novel — an American novel, by Henry Farrell.
For a writer, improper English can be a successful attention-getter. When too successful, though, it can find its own impropriety weakened. In the 1939 film of Gone with the Wind, Prissy’s line “I don’t know nothing about birthing babies” was not only an admission that she had tried to fib her way to importance but also a piteous sign of how deep an ignorance she fantasized escaping. Nobody with a bit of education used the word “birth” as a verb in 1939. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary still doesn’t list it as a verb. But the American Heritage Dictionary notes: “Recently, however, the nonstandard Southern usage has coincided with widespread usage of verbs derived from nouns, such as parent, network, and microwave. Birth in this new usage is most commonly found in its present participial form and is used as an adjective in compounds such as birthing center.” Lawsy, how times do change.
Had Truffaut’s Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me enjoyed greater impact, I might have found it harder to criticize that sentence from last column, “I never saw such a beautiful view like this.” But pending a blockbuster remake, I think it’s safe to say that “such” normally belongs with “as,” not with “like.”
“I never saw such a beautiful view as this” means I never saw a view so beautiful. “I never saw such a beautiful view like this” could mean I never saw such a beautiful view in this way. I saw one once while passing through on a train, but I never saw one while dangling from a helicopter as I am now.
When you put “such as” together, there’s an ambiguity to avoid. Kipling mentioned “such boastings as the Gentiles use, or lesser breeds without the Law.” In other words, a certain kind of boasting. Not necessarily including, for example, all the boastings that the believers use. But if he had written “boastings, such as the Gentiles use,” it would include all boastings and those of the Gentiles would be just an example. The same phrase but without a comma, “boastings such as the Gentiles use,” could be considered ambiguous: all boastings, or only the Gentile ones?
Then there’s “as such,” which means “in consideration that it is what it has just been called.” Tearing up UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which deemed Zionism racist, Chaim Herzog said, “For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper and we shall treat it as such.” Often, though, you see “as such” used vaguely to mean “because of what was just pointed out.” Cintra Scott, in a blog from Argentina says: “Tomatoes have reached the eye-popping price of $15 per kilo! As such, they have become luxury items.” In writing “as such,” Cintra doesn’t mean “as tomatoes,” but rather “because they cost $15 a kilo.” Sloppy usage, I’d say.
As a modifier directly following the noun, “as such” serves the curious purpose of forcing a second look at the applicability of the term — emphasizing it or, in the negative, calling it into question. For example, “We’ve been encouraging worker attrition but if losses continue, there will be layoffs as such.” Or in an example from the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms, “There’s no dining room as such, but we’ve made a dining area just outside the kitchen.”
Next time: Deplorable plurals
Comments and questions are welcome: ]]