Saturday, November 09, 2013

Such As, By, and Such as by


The Language Lady has started going through her mail, and will address readers' questions in the next few entries. FIrst is one from Daniel, a lawyer in California: 

Q. Hello Language Lady,

The basic question is whether one must say “such as by,” or is it equally acceptable to say “as by”?  That is, do you need the “such”?  Consider this sentence: 

“If the recipient of the disparaging communication cannot act on the injurious words, such as by reducing or withdrawing his bid on the property, then no tort occurs.”

Would that sentence be just as good if I said “. . . injurious words, as by reducing ….”? 

A. Hi Daniel,

Good Point!  It’s great to know there are grammatically aware lawyers out there who want to eliminate unnecessary words; and you’re right in detecting that there is something unhealthy about that sentence. But it’s not just “such.”

Let’s start by paring the phrase down to its subject-verb-object essentials:
“If recipient cannot act on words, such as by reducing or withdrawing …”

The problem is with “such as.” Look what happens when we take "such as" away:
“If recipient cannot act on the injurious words by reducing or withdrawing his bid on the property, then no tort occurs.” Using only “by” shows the means by which the recipient might take action. “Such as” is extraneous because the phrase itself goes with things, not actions. For example:

“I eat fruit, such as apples and bananas.” Here, “such as” specifies what kind of fruit (apples and bananas). We don’t say, “I eat fruit, such as by peeling apples and bananas.” 

That is basically what is going on in your document: “such as” is modifying “injurious words” while the little preposition “by” is showing how the required action should be taken; i.e., “reducing” or “withdrawing” the bid.

Sticking “such as” together with “by” is thus a bit like mixing oil and water – each has its special purpose but should not be used together.

Your suggestion to go with “as by,” deleting “such,” would render the pared-down version to: “If recipient cannot act on words, as by reducing or withdrawing his bid …”  Does that sound natural to you?

How about “as by” in a different context:
“She gets to work quickly, as by taking the subway or riding her bike.” It doesn’t work, does it? Right: we don’t need “as.” That sentence should be, “She gets to work quickly by taking the subway or riding her bike.” Just using “by,” is perfectly efficient in showing how she gets to work.

Language Lady will close “by” proposing another version for your document, “such as”: “If the recipient of the disparaging communication cannot act on the injurious words and neither reduces nor withdraws his bid on the property, then no tort occurs.”

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you are wrong. For lawyers it is important not to overly restrict their point. "such as" here means "for example"--in other words, there could be yet other outcomes. In your rewrite, you have allowed for only the two, so the meaning is changed and in a restricting way.

Anonymous said...

Actually Language Lady is correct. The original phrase was already overly restrictive. LL's rephrasing better allows for other outcomes. Look at it like this: "cannot act on the injurious words, such as by reducing or withdrawing" says that they cannot act on the injurious words at all in any way, giving one example of such banned action. But the phrase "cannot act on the injurious words by reducing or withdrawing" states one specific way that they cannot act on the injurious words without saying anything about any other ways they might act. By narrowing the exclusion down to a single specific case, LL's phrase is far less restrictive.