Anne Curzan has a piece at Lingua Franca that pushes my buttons so that they produce a loud, harsh, buzzing noise in my head. She begins:
I am being a stick-in-the-mud about the phrase as such, and I have decided I need to change my ways.
As the graduate students whose dissertations I have been reading over the past few weeks will attest, I have been underlining many — but not all — of their uses of as such. Finally one of them asked me what the problem was. She said, “I’m thinking perhaps I don’t know how to use this phrase.”
Or perhaps she knows exactly what this phrase means to many of her readers and I am just behind the times.
Here is an example from a recent dissertation of an as such that I left untouched, given that it is used the way I would use it:
[This scholar] argues that Christianity has become, for many college students, little more than a restrictive moral code, and as such, has earned a bad name.
In this sentence, the pronoun such has a clear antecedent (“a restrictive moral code”) and the prepositional phrase as such accords with the Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition: “As being what the name or description implies; in that capacity.”
Here is an example of as such from the same dissertation that I underlined:
[The organization] encourages students to acknowledge where their own lives challenge Christian belief, and as such, these students are unlikely to fear such representation in academically oriented texts.
As such in this sentence seems to be synonymous with therefore or consequently. As a reader, I find myself searching for the antecedent of such, and given that I cannot find one, the sentences feels out of kilter. To me.
“To me, too!” the voice in my head screams. “How can it not! It’s wrong!” But Curzan goes on to discuss the history involved, pointing out that the OED called it colloquial and vulgar in 1915 but that the extended use has been growing so common that Jonathon Owen, in a 2013 post on Visual Thesaurus, “recognizes that these kinds of changes happen” and wonders “if he should loosen up and let this one go.” She concludes:
My as-such underlining does not seem well justified. Yes, there are certainly critics of the construction out there. But the use of as such to mean therefore or consequently seems entrenched enough in published academic prose that writers should not feel they have to avoid this use for fear of harsh judgment that it is too colloquial or “slipshod.” If this use of as such ever comes up on the ballot for American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel, I’m voting acceptable.
This puts me in a pickle. As you know, I am a stone descriptivist, and if usage favors a construction, my principles insist it is perfectly good English. On the other hand, I am only human, and as it happens I hate this extended use with a passion (and use my editorial pen to stamp it out when I encounter it in the course of my job); when I see a sentence like one she quotes beginning “The main problem is a lack of data from banks and other institutions that suffer losses; as such, these estimates are heavily dependent on the methods used…,” I snarl “as what?” and change the offending phrase to “therefore.” So I am placing the pickle before the Varied Reader and soliciting input. Does the phrase seem horrible, not so bad, or totally unremarkable? Should I, like Curzan, loosen up and let it go?