“I did give her [Theresa May, Prime Minister of Great Britain] a suggestion—I wouldn’t say advice—and I think she found it maybe too brutal,” Trump said. “As far as negotiating the deal, I probably would have done what my suggestion was to the prime minister, but she can always do that.” Quoted in Julie Hirschfeld Davis of the New York Times in “Shifting tone, Trump heaps praise on May,” The Boston Globe, Saturday, July 14, 2018, A7.
Once again in one of my columns, I include a comment made by the current U.S. president.
You may wonder why I continually do so.
It’s just that we often look to the commander-in-chief to set an example, and—when it comes to language—he frequently does. (Of course, it’s a bad example but an example nonetheless.)
I must tell you that, when I first undertook to write this column for editor Kathy Ptacek some six-and-a-half years ago (can you believe it’s been so long?—I know; I know: each one of my columns seems as if it’s six-and-a-half years long), I did so in order to air my many grievances about the way people murdered our tongue and to rant about my pet peeves when it came to the misuse of language.
There was one misuse in particular that grates on me. I have been meaning to complain about it from day one, but, for whatever reason, I have refrained—until now, that is. The president’s comment has provided the impetus (though he is by no means the only person who commits this transgression).
I could ask you, “What’s wrong with Donald Trump’s statement?”, and you might point to any of several things—the lack of specifics (what exactly is the “suggestion”; what “that” can she always do?), the lack of clarity in construction of thought (why not say “I probably would have done what I told the prime minister to do”?)—but, as I have often written before, spoken language is not the same as written language, and we can be generous and forgiving when someone is speaking extempore, for the speaker may not be able to formulate his/her argument in the best terms. However, there is one aspect of the preceding quotation that is unforgivable, whether the speaker is talking off the cuff or from a prepared statement:
“As far as negotiating the deal, I probably would have done what my suggestion was…”
What’s wrong with this phrase? I’ll tell you: It’s an incomplete thought. You can’t say “as far as” without following the prepositional phrase with a subject and a verb—unless you’re talking about distances.
In other words, you can walk as far as the corner or you can fly as far as Helsinki, but, when you talk about a subject that’s concerning you, you must say, “As far as negotiating a deal is concerned” or “As far as negotiating a deal goes”—you cannot omit the verb that completes the thought.
This is a conversational blunder that I have been railing against for at least 45 years. I can’t stand it!!!
It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop—only the speaker never even removes that shoe, let alone drops it.
My dad, born in 1922, who had only an 11th-grade education, knew enough to finish his “as far as” phrases, as did his similarly educated contemporaries. People my age (born 1948) used to know enough to do the same. (Donald Trump is two years older than I am.)
Thirty-three years ago, the humor writer, Dave Barry (a year older than I am), made fun of the stupidity of not using the verb in the “as far as” construction in one of his “Mr. Language Person” columns (The Miami Herald, Sunday, October 27, 1985), reprinted in his 1986 book, Claw Your Way to the Top:
“Dear Mister Language Person: I have a question concerning the expression ‘As far as Fred.’ I would like to know whether it is preferable to say, ‘As far as Fred, he always gets the hives from that spicy food,’ or, ‘As far as Fred, that spicy food always gives him the hives.’”
“Answer: They are both preferable.”
I don’t have to tell you that Barry was joking, do I? Well, he was. Neither is preferable; neither is correct.
I realize that this ridiculous construction probably gained prominence when some people who didn’t know better substituted “as far as” for “as for.” Substitute “as for” in “as far as Fred” or “as far as negotiating the deal” and you’ll see what I mean. If a person insists on saying “as far as” instead of “as for,” then s/he must complete the thought with a subject and a verb.
That’s it! No exceptions.
Okay. Now you know—if you ever write or speak to me—how to raise my blood pressure in one easy swoop.
Thank you, and good day.
Anthony Ambrogio, email@example.com