As Such.

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?

Comments

  1. I’m with you, Hat — in fact I find all such antecedentless suches equally horrible, including the very common similar use of “such that”, as in e.g. “the linking of sentences such that they constitute a narrative”. But, seeing as that phrase is the only example given for the use of “such that” by Google’s house dictionary, I’m pretty sure this battle is lost.

  2. Totally unremarkable.

    Does there have to be a syntactic antecedent NP, or just a semantic one? Would you correct this job posting for a New Yorker online editor, because it doesn’t have “valuers of?”

  3. Doesn’t bother me unless I stop and think about it.

  4. I understand that “as such” may be in the process of adopting “consequently” as a possible meaning, but since it’s not all the way there yet, it’s useful to tell students that some of their audience will find the use distasteful, and some will honestly not understand what they’re saying. (The second sample sentence left me bewildered — I simply didn’t know what it meant, on the first read.) That’s not prescriptivism: it’s just telling them how it’s going to land for some of their readers.

  5. I agree with John Cowan – an innovative “such as” would probably escape my notice in the normal course of reading, but the examples you give do seem more poorly formed the more I think about them.

    This reminds me of a usage that’s become very popular on Reddit: people will preface a sentence with a self-description like “As an American” or “As a tall person”, and then press ahead with something other than themselves as the subject. This kind of usage has been around for a while, of course, but it feels like it’s become a standard part of the discourse on that site.

  6. An innovative “as such”, that is.

  7. Daniel Todes says:

    Hold the line! The “extended usage” is sloppy writing (and sloppy thinking), and, as such, is unclear and unreadable.

  8. Would you correct this job posting for a New Yorker online editor, because it doesn’t have “valuers of?”

    Yes, I would, and frankly the fact that they allow that to appear in a piece of published prose that represents them to the world makes me think less of the magazine.

  9. But it appears that I (and TR and Dan) are fighting a losing battle.

  10. Hmm, I guess I’m with MMcM and John Cowan on this one. Sorry!

  11. No need to apologize — I seek information, not validation.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    “As an American” or “As a tall person”

    I think that As … here is short for Speaking as …, and “as such” it is different from as such.

  13. Yes, but what Lazar is saying is that it’s comparable in that if it isn’t followed by “I” (which I presume is the situation he’s talking about) it produces a similar effect.

  14. To change the subject a bit, I find students using “in which” as a connective with no antecedent. I’ve finally figured out that this must be an attempt at academic register on the part of people who’ve seen “in which” where they’d use no connective at all.

  15. To me as such simply means “therefore”, and I was very surprised when I first learned that some speakers use it more narrowly.

    I take the as to be in its sense “because, since”; and while as such is a fixed expression that doesn’t have to make sense compositionally, it nonetheless can be, if we understand such as taking the whole previous clause as antecedent (cf. “such is life”, “such is to be expected”, etc.).

  16. (In case it’s not obvious: the second paragraph of my previous comment was referring to as such meaning “therefore”, not as such meaning “qua one”.)

  17. H. Schwartz says:

    I’m not really a peever at all, but the examples given for the extended usage actually confused me at first. They don’t feel bad or “wrong”, they really didn’t parse at first, I kept reading the sentence and could not figure out why the ‘as such’ was there – and so I think that it might be fairly seldom used, because it feels like I’ve never seen this before.

  18. Well, that’s why you’re not a peever. A peever would be perfectly aware of the extended sense but would pretend not to understand it and accuse those who used it of wrecking the language; you’re simply unfamiliar with it and find it confusing, as do I. But I’m afraid it’s no longer seldom used, as you’d know if you spent as much time reading academic prose as Curzan and I do.

  19. Thinking about it, I would probably change the “lack of data” example to as a result rather than therefore, and I might change the New Yorker example to “We are a team/company that values”, thus providing an antecedent for the as such. I think it’s kind of creepy that the whole ad is written in terms of “We” without ever saying who “We” is.

  20. Yeah, I find the example slightly woolly and definitely feel it could be tightened up, but no single part of it (including the “as such”) jumped out at me as an error. Like Ran, I think I just accept this usage as a set phrase meaning “therefore”.

  21. people will preface a sentence with a self-description like “As an American” or “As a tall person”, and then press ahead with something other than themselves as the subject. This kind of usage has been around for a while, of course

    Indeed. I just came across this similar instance:

    Politicians are a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people, and who, to say the most of them, are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men. I say this with the greater freedom because, being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal.

    (Abraham Lincoln, 1837)

    You can find similar things in Greek and Latin, so I’d be surprised if this kind of construction hasn’t been around in English continuously ever since PIE days.

  22. I had never noticed this new use of “as such,” and I also found the example with it confusing. I don’t edit much copy these days, but if I encountered this in a manuscript draft produced by a colleague, I would definitely change it.

  23. I had always thought it was an Australianism. I suppose I never noticed it until I moved there from the US 10 years ago and proofread a friend’s undergraduate thesis which was peppered with it. I asked her about it, and she said that it probably didn’t really mean anything.

    A few years later, I encountered it in the Bitcoin manifesto and, in an instant, conceived the theory that Satoshi Nakamoto is an Australian (similar time zone to Japan!), which I am now sharing with the world.

  24. I feel as you do, LH, but it seems to me the problem in these cases is not deciding whether to be descriptive or prescriptive, but deciding what the current state of the language is. How many of one’s readers will notice the incorrect/new usage; how many will think less of your publication as a result. If it’s a fair number, or a fair number of any particularly influential readers, (or a fair number of those readers who are in possession of green ink and a liking for writing letters of complaint), then why not change it to the “correct” wording. Unless, of course, that will offend even more. We are, after all, editing for the publisher, the writer, and the reader, not for ourselves.

  25. I’m with you, Hat. I’ve been grumbling quietly about this usage for I don’t know how many years. I was surprised to hear that it’s old as you say.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    This reminds me of a usage that’s become very popular on Reddit: people will preface a sentence with a self-description like “As an American” or “As a tall person”, and then press ahead with something other than themselves as the subject.

    Do you mean the cases where “as an American, he” means “speaking as an American, I think that he”? That’s a logical next step after the construction in the example from Lincoln (though I do often find it harder to parse).

  27. I say this with the greater freedom because, being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal.

    (Abraham Lincoln, 1837)

    You can find similar things in Greek and Latin

    Exactly; I’m pretty sure Lincoln, like pretty much every nineteenth-century orator, was so steeped in Latin rhetoric (Greek not so much) that he unconsciously “translated” Latin constructions into English. That’s certainly not a viable excuse now.

  28. it seems to me the problem in these cases is not deciding whether to be descriptive or prescriptive, but deciding what the current state of the language is.

    But basing a decision on “what the current state of the language is” is the very definition of what it is to be a descriptivist. A prescriptivist doesn’t give a damn what the current state of the language is; if something is wrong, it’s wrong, no matter how many people say it that way. (The reductio ad absurdum of this attitude was displayed by a peever of my former acquaintance who, when I pointed out to him that the French used “double negatives” as a standard part of their language, replied “Then the French are wrong.”)

  29. But basing a decision on “what the current state of the language is” is the very definition of what it is to be a descriptivist.”

    Indeed. And it is also possible to be what Mr McIntyre calls “a moderate prescriptivist” and be concerned for the current state of the language.

    But you said:

    “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.”

    My point is that the choice of being descriptivist/moderate prescriptivist/prescriptivist isn’t the problem here or in many other cases. The problem is deciding what the current state of the language is. That isn’t the problem with, say, singular “they” – there we have absolutely no doubt.

  30. Ah, right you are. Sorry, I went into default mode.

  31. J. W. Brewer says:

    I am equally baffled by the second sample sentence in the block quote from Curzan. It is possible that it’s not just the “as such” that’s creating problems but the second “such” (in “such representation”) because I’m not confident I’ve figured out which representation is meant (and even if I’ve guessed right I had to think too hard to come up with the guess). Although maybe if I saw the whole paragraph that ambiguity would be resolved. And transitions like “accordingly” or “consequently” also require something antecedent-like in the discourse to make sense, and it is certainly possible for poorly constructed prose using those words to cause ambiguity as to which antecedent-like-thing is meant.

    For the deprecated “as such” usage in general, I don’t think I use it and I think I dislike it when I notice it. But maybe I don’t notice it so much when the intended meaning is sufficiently clear that I don’t have to pause to try the sentence again (which would mean I only notice it when it’s badly employed, which would be enough to create an association between the usage and lack of clarity)?

  32. vrai.cabecou says:

    I’d change it too, because it’s confusing. That construction makes me think I’ve missed something.

  33. LH +1, as they say. It’s hard to say whether the usage comes from people who willfully don’t care about their language, and who must be condemned; or from innocent sloppiness, such as [!] everyone is guilty of in spoken and in written language; or from a new usage, which has become entrenched and grammatical. In the first case, the expression should be edited away, with personal prejudice; in the second, it should be edited away, with sympathy for human foible; in the third, it should be edited away, in consideration for written language, which is relatively conservative and offers clearer and better alternatives for this usage. Maybe in twenty years such that will be more acceptable in the standard language of written publication, but at present it is not.

    If I were a copy editor, I would probably even change many instances of hence to therefore, for being too archaic, though the word is acceptable to any peever.

  34. I hesitate over hence, but alter albeit, which I abominate.

  35. I meant as such, not such that. Foibles, etc.

    (albeit: blech.)

  36. op tipping says:

    What’s wrong with albeit now?

  37. Do you use it? What’s it good for, other than to sound like a relic of another age?

  38. What’s it good for, other than to sound like a relic of another age?

    If I were a good old-fashioned word, I think I’d be a little unnerved by that question.

  39. George Gibbard says:

    Fight fiercely, Harvard!
    Fight, fight, fight!
    Demonstrate to them our skill.
    Albeit they possess the might,
    Nonetheless we have the will.

  40. Right. What can you expect from a bunch of jocks?

  41. Eli Nelson says:

    I’d agree with Past Anna Curzan and Languagehat, although it is perhaps more a matter of elegance than grammatical correctness (like dangling participles that suggest an unintended referent).

    “Albeit” doesn’t sound quite that old-fashioned to me, and I confess that I’ve used it in my writing before, although I don’t use it frequently. I do find the word “whilst” irritatingly archaic-sounding, though I don’t know if it sounds normal to speakers of British English.

  42. “albeit” + AdjPhrase/AdvPhrase is fine. “albeit” + clause is not.

    How do we feel about “not as such” meaning “not exactly; sort-of but not-really”?

  43. “Albeit” doesn’t sound quite that old-fashioned to me, and I confess that I’ve used it in my writing before, although I don’t use it frequently. I do find the word “whilst” irritatingly archaic-sounding, though I don’t know if it sounds normal to speakers of British English.

    It’s true that I dislike “whilst” even more than “albeit,” but my irritation is tempered by the suspicion that it sounds normal to speakers of British English. I edit it out anyway, since I am an American editor.

  44. Bathrobe says:

    I edit it out anyway, since I am an American editor

    Hat, what exactly is it that you edit? And what is the purpose of editing out non-American usages? Is it to protect house style, to protect the ears of Americans from unfamiliar usages, to produce the smoothest possible text so as not to offend (American) readers, to produce the most unexceptionable text in the interest of gaining (American) reader support…? Just curious, because while editing obviously makes a great contribution to readability (by fixing problems that the author may not be aware of or is unable to see), it seems there is a lot more involved besides.

  45. “albeit” should have the THOUGHT vowel, not the TRAP or PALM vowel. Cf. “altogether”, “almighty”, “already”, and even “alright”.

  46. J. W. Brewer says:

    I think all of mollymooly’s examples have the PALM vowel for me. Maybe in quick speech the first syllable gets reduced a bit, but I don’t think the THOUGHT vowel is where that takes it? (FWIW I don’t have cot/caught merger.)

  47. J. W. Brewer says:

    Searching my outlook “sent” folder, by the way, discloses that I use “albeit” my own self from time to time, and apparently don’t find it particularly fuddy-duddyish.

  48. Hat, what exactly is it that you edit? And what is the purpose of editing out non-American usages? Is it to protect house style, to protect the ears of Americans from unfamiliar usages, to produce the smoothest possible text so as not to offend (American) readers, to produce the most unexceptionable text in the interest of gaining (American) reader support…?

    Those are all excellent questions. I edit mainly academic books, mainly for Oxford UP (the US branch), and house style requires American spelling and usage — a good thing, since otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s not “to protect the ears of Americans from unfamiliar usages,” it’s a matter of producing a text that fits with the other texts published by OUP in the US. You may think it’s not important that different texts have similar style, but publishers do not agree with you (and a good thing too, from my point of view). Publishers have already given up on fact-checking and major editing (turning badly written, repetitive, nigh-unreadable manuscripts into what used to be considered publishable prose); if they give up on editing for style and consistency as well, it will be hard for them to justify their existence and the prices they charge.

  49. I hesitate over hence

    There’s a prescription that hence needs, or at least prefers, to govern a clause set in the future, from its literal sense ‘from now (on)’, whereas therefore and thus disprefer the future. I have never seen any descriptivist discuss the point, thus I have no idea if it’s true, hence someone ought to go find out.

    otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it

    I’m always astonished that multi-dialectal editors like Stan Carey exist. How does he keep AmE, BrE, and IrE straight in his head? I could only edit BrE painfully with a lot of access to reference works and a very good spelling checker, and even then I’d fall down on idioms and background references. (Harold Ross once annotated “the woman taken in adultery” in a New Yorker piece with “What woman? Hasn’t been previously mentioned.”)

    if they give up on editing for style and consistency as well, it will be hard for them to justify their existence and the prices they charge.

    Scholarly journal publishers, of course, have given up on those things, and consequently ….

  50. I’m always astonished that multi-dialectal editors like Stan Carey exist. How does he keep AmE, BrE, and IrE straight in his head?

    I frankly don’t believe it’s possible — not at the level I consider acceptable. Sure, I could edit UK prose, as you say, “with a lot of access to reference works and a very good spelling checker,” but I wouldn’t be confident I was doing a good enough job. And what would be the point of hiring a US editor to edit UK prose?

    Scholarly journal publishers, of course, have given up on those things, and consequently ….

    I don’t understand how they keep that scam going.

  51. Isn’t it possible to accept its use in that meaning and also to reject its use in writing?

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Scholarly journal publishers, of course, have given up on those things, and consequently ….

    Not all of them have, but many, including at least some of the most prestigious ones.

    I don’t understand how they keep that scam going.

    Impact factor.

    Employers want to hire the best scientists. Which ones are the best? How does one simply measure the quality of a scientist?

    By counting how often their publications are cited. Rubbish might be cited a few times just to refute it, but the good stuff becomes a reference work and/or spawns new research by other people.

    Before Google Scholar got to that point, counting citations wasn’t easy. Therefore, a company called the Institute for Scientific Information (now Thomson Reuters) smelled a market niche, started counting citations and sold access to the results.

    This can be done with journals, not just with individual papers. Naturally, it is done, so that editors and publishers have something to brag about.

    Often, then, hiring committees sift through their 400 applications for 1 open job by looking at the impact factors of the journals in which the applicants have published.

    Most of the journals with the highest impact factors follow the traditional reader-pays model. This includes the ones at the very top, like Nature, Science, PNAS and Cell. Most open-access journals have low impact factors or none at all.

    But of course the impact factors of journals in small fields are automatically lower. I currently have a manuscript in review at a rather general open-access journal precisely because its impact factor is about three times as high as all alternatives, paywalled or not.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    Saith the article:

    It is important to note that impact factor is a journal metric and should not be used to assess individual researchers or institutions.[19][20]

    Yeah.

    Right.

    Admittedly, how bad it is differs between countries. You don’t need to pay much attention to your IF if you think you can stay in the UK for the rest of your professional life. In the US it’s really bad, and in France it used to be even worse.

  54. You don’t need to pay much attention to your IF if you think you can stay in the UK for the rest of your professional life

    Really? I don’t know much about UK academia, but there’s been a discussion of it in the pages of the LRB over the past few months and the picture I get is of a horrible managerial dictatorship where your every breath and scribble is quantified and assessed for “impact”.

  55. Yeah, I have the same impression, with the proviso that I too owe it to reading the LRB, which for all I know describes an alternate-universe UK. (Which reminds me of one of the greatest rock songs ever.)

  56. J. W. Brewer says:

    Any Ulster in the vocals is very subtle, but there’s that whole singing-voice/speaking-voice distinction because the diction in the spoken-word song-intro bits on the live album is very strongly regional. (and wikipedia claims that “Hanx!” really is dialect for “thanks” rather than just an in-joke, although maybe that should be [citation needed])

  57. David Marjanović says:

    What is the LRB?

    and wikipedia claims that “Hanx!” really is dialect for “thanks” rather than just an in-joke

    Interesting; Irish has undergone the same sound shift.

  58. London Review of Books.

  59. Most open-access journals have low impact factors or none at all.

    In biology. In other natural sciences, it’s not as bad, and in the humanities it’s fine: you could make a whole career of nothing but open-access and conference publication by now.

  60. It’s not just biology. In physics, open access journals have pretty low influence. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, physics seems to be the field that makes the most extensive use of pre-prints, so many papers are available online at arXiv.org, independent of where they are published. Second, the top journals in physics are the very reasonably priced Physical Review journals published by the American Physical Society.

  61. Well, mmkay, green or gold, it’s all open access. Open-access journals are a means, not the end.

  62. Well, the key point is that publication in a peer-reviewed journal has been largely decoupled from the access to a manuscript.

  63. In some disciplines, for some journals. There’s a hell of a lot of computer science behind the ACM paywall.

  64. Yes, I meant they have been decoupled in physics (except perhaps solid state physics).

  65. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @languagehat:

    It’s true that I dislike “whilst” even more than “albeit,” but my irritation is tempered by the suspicion that it sounds normal to speakers of British English.

    I can confirm that suspicion, not only with the fallible evidence of my own continued exposure to British academic writing, but with hard data. I still dislike it, but I’m on the way to getting rid of my visceral revulsion.

  66. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @TR:

    I don’t know much about UK academia, but there’s been a discussion of it in the pages of the LRB over the past few months and the picture I get is of a horrible managerial dictatorship where your every breath and scribble is quantified and assessed for “impact”.

    That picture is accurate, but the cumbersome and wasteful process of research ‘excellence’ evaluation deliberately ignores impact factors, submitting instead each piece to a panel of evaluators… who have, on average, about 15 minutes to read and rank it.

  67. David Marjanović says:

    Oh. Alternative hell, then.

  68. I’m reminded of the human denizens of Alan Dean Foster’s Midworld, who live in the trees of a planetary-scale rain forest, between the Upper Hell, home of predatory birds, and the Lower or True Hell, the home of aquatic monsters.

  69. Ha! Satoshi Nakamoto is Australian after all: http://www.wired.com/2015/12/bitcoins-creator-satoshi-nakamoto-is-probably-this-unknown-australian-genius/

    One cheer for amateur linguistic analysis!

  70. Alas, an up-and-coming hypothesis today, an obsolete idea tomorrow: detective work on Internet time.

  71. By “obsolete,” do you mean something like “long familar” or “tired old”? Because to me it means “no longer valid.”

  72. It’s a hypothesis we are talking about here, and there is now enough counter-evidence that it’s not clear that even the proposer believes it. There probably will never be enough evidence to definitively confirm or reject it, since even a full confession might be false.

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