January 27, 2007

More missing prepositions?

In response to our recent discussion of missing prepositions in quotations derived from Luke 12:48, John Cowan writes:

Well, now that "from to whom much is given much is expected" has been beaten to death with a clue stick, can something be done about the bizarre missing "as" in "John-john, as he was frequently known, [...]". That unpacks to "He was frequently known John-john", which nobody would swallow.

Let's clarify what's bothering John. In a sentence like

I wanted to give you a little update on Lil´Bit, or Tritill as we call him in Icelandic.

the as-clause has a structure that we can suggest with a pairing like this:

we call him Tritill in Icelandic ⇔ Tritill as we call him __ in Icelandic

However, in a sentence like

"Wulfie" as he is known at home is currently Barry’s favorite jumping horse.

the comparison

he is known "Wulfie" at home ⇔ "Wulfie" as he is known __ at home

is problematic: the left-hand side is defective. On the other hand,

he is known as "Wulfie" at home ⇔ "Wulfie" as he is known as __ at home

has an equally defective right-hand side. What's going on here?

In the first place, it's not obvious that anything needs to be done about this, in the sense of mounting a campaign to correct people's usage. The construction that bothers John is very common, even in well written and well edited English, as the examples below attest.

"Weighing the universe", The Economist, 1/25/2007:

Another aspect of Einstein's work to be tested is the existence of gravitational waves. General relativity views gravity not as a force but as a consequence of the curved geometry of space and time. Space-time, as it is known, has four dimensions: the three familiar spatial ones of length, breadth and height, and time. It can be distorted or curved by massive objects, such as stars.

Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, "Spotlight: Julian Metcalfe, founder of Pret A Manger", International Herald Tribune, 1/26/2007:

A self-described perfectionist with a vision "for what is right and what is wrong," Metcalfe, 47, has turned his fixation on the small stuff into a large influence on the British lunch hour. Pret, as it is known, specializes in freshly made sandwiches, served up in cheerful surroundings in high-traffic areas. Since its founding in 1986, the privately owned chain has grown to 180 outlets, mostly in Britain but also in the United States and Asia.

Jonathan Fildes, "Mobiles navigate the future", BBC News, 1/24/2007:

Countries like Japan are well known for their early adoption of technology, while in the US, the mass up-take of GPS was down to legislation.

In 1999, the Federal Communications Commission pushed through an act that requires all handsets to incorporate the technology. The E911 system, as it is known, allows the emergency services to pinpoint the exact location of a mobile phone caller.

Arnold Zwicky, "A recipe for WTF coordination", Language Log, 6/21/2005:

Kcat, as she is known to her friends, reports:

Furthermore, the same construction seems to arise with (all?) the other verbs that take a similar complement: not just "know X as Y", but also "refer to X as Y", "describe X as Y", even "denominate X as Y"... Here are some examples from reputable sources indexed on the web:

Anna Mae He, or AMH as she is referred to in court documents, has been living with Jerry and Louise Baker in suburban Memphis since she was three weeks old.
The issue isn't his religious beliefs, but the fact that at some point this very gentle soul, as they describe him, decided to take up arms.
Rousseau's Bomston, "or the Englishman," as he is denominated in the instructions for the engravings for Julie (1761), suggests a sentimental update of this figure, a melancholic source of stoic advice to the young impetuous lovers.

This reminds me of the case of still unpacked used to mean "not yet unpacked" ("'Still un-X-ed is not yet unspreading", 6/14/2006; "The condescension of descriptivism", 5/21/2005; etc.). We have a widely-used construction, sanctioned by excellent writers and careful editors, which on analytic reflection seems incoherent, at least to many people. Should our response be to persuade people to reflect and sin no more? or should we work harder to justify the ways of norma loquendi, illogical as they may at first seem to us?

Other examples of the same sort are overnegations and could care less.

The case of the missing as needs more analysis, it seems to me, not a hasty decision by the virtual Linguistic Academy. For example, does the fact that the clause starts with as make this a sort of morphosyntactic haplology? Is this case connected to the apparently missing prepositions in phrases like "the place that I went (to)"?

(It's likely that there's some literature on this topic -- if you know of any, tell me.)

Note that John salted the mine by including the adverb frequently, which collocates with "called" rather than "known", as these Google web hits suggest:

  [nil] frequently widely
he|she|it is __ called
he|she|it is __ known

This pattern (which may have something to do with the idea that called evokes a set of events, while known describes a more or less general state) is still present in the as-clauses seen in the current Google News index, though in an attenuated form:

  [nil] sometimes often widely
he|she|it is __ called
he|she|it is __ known

[Update -- Jan Freeman writes:

Last spring, I included it on a reader poll made up of actual quotations each of which included a mistake, or "mistake," in English. Even readers looking for an error were not very sensitive to this one, I found. Here's my tiny contribution to the research file:

In the April 30, 2006, reader poll, I offered this choice:

4. "I was told in interviews with American and European intelligence officials, however, that the laptop was more suspect, and less revelatory, than it had been _____."

A. depicted.
B. described as.
C. rumored to be.

May 6, I reported the results:

4. "[T]he laptop was more suspect, and less revelatory, than it had been depicted" (Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker).
If Hersh had written "the laptop was depicted revelatory," his editor would have inserted an "as." When that "as" would fall at the end of the clause, though, it's often dropped, and many readers don't mind at all: Fifty-two percent of you chose his version. But 41 percent preferred "had been rumored to be," and 7 percent put the "as" back where it belonged, despite the awkwardness of ending with "described as."

OK, so add the the New Yorker to the list of publications that somethings pass a missing "as": The Economist, the International Herald Tribune, and Language Log. And just to round out the set...

Warren St. John, "Refugees Find Hostility and Hope on Soccer Field", NYT, 1/21/2007:

The mayor’s soccer ban has everything to do with why, on a scorching August afternoon, Ms. Mufleh — or Coach Luma, as she is known in the refugee community — is holding tryouts for her under-13 team on a rutted, sand-scarred field behind an elementary school.

"The Code of the Street: Hustling for Status", WaPo, 12/20/2006:

James, or "A.J." as he is known on the street, has spent his adult life "in the game," earning many scars and building a long court record.


Posted by Mark Liberman at January 27, 2007 10:04 AM