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Is using the phrase "to go so far as to" in an academic context (e.g. in an article in humanities journal) acceptable?

New Example:

I do not know why Mister X went so far as to assert that Mister Y's argument is blatantly invalid (-- after all, it seems to be quite convincing).

This phrase sounds rather colloquial to me, but I think I have read it quite often in journals -- maybe due to a lack of alternatives...

Are there any reasonable alternatives?


I realized that my intended-to-be entertaining example distracted from the actual question. So I edited the question and added a new, updated example.

Sorry for the confusion. To keep the answer by Bill Franke reasonable, I keep the original example:

I do not know why Mister X goes so far as to assert that Mister Y is a scumbag.

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1 Answer

Using the phrase "to go so far as to" in an academic context is certainly acceptable. It's merely a style choice.

The purpose of this kind of verbose phrase is to intensify the sentence as well as to communicate the author's opinion that Mr X has gone too far by calling Mr Y a scumbag. Because it's a long and coherent phrase, and because it's not a common phrase preceding words like scumbag in academic writing (the word scumbag ought to be in quotation marks to indicate that it's a verbatim quote, or else "...a scumbag (sic)..."), it draws the reader's attention.

Whether it's acceptable to write this sentence containing the word scumbag is up to the peer reviewers and editors of the journal, not to some non-existent official council of language police who pass on what can and cannot be printed in academic journals. Those peer reviewers and editors also pass judgment on whether phrases like "to go so far as to" are acceptable in articles submitted for publication.

[EDIT: Response to new example sentence] Using the phrase "to go so far as to" in an academic context is certainly acceptable. It's merely a style choice.

The purpose of this kind of verbose phrase is to intensify the sentence as well as to communicate the author's opinion that Mr X has gone too far by making the claim the example sentence refers to. Because it's a long and coherent phrase, and because it's not a common phrase, it draws the reader's attention.

The new example sentence suggests that Mr X has overreached or overreacted by saying "Mister Y's argument is blatantly invalid", something, it implies, should not have been said. Now it's not about using an insulting epithet, but it's still about a risky statement: either Mr X is wrong or has overstated his case because he hasn't sufficiently supported his claim. It could say something like "Mr X went too far when he asserted that Mister Y's argument was blatantly invalid", but this is more directly judgmental than is "I do not know why Mister X goes so far as to assert...".

Context determines whether using harsher (direct, strong, unadorned) or softer (indirect, mitigated, circumlocutory) language is the better strategy in any discussion of a disagreement.

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@ bill franke "The author could have said"...? Can you finish your sentence, please ? –  Jo Bedard May 9 '13 at 14:15
    
@JoB: I forgot to delete those words. I realized that they weren't relevant to the answer. My feeling was that the author could have said something like "Mr X went too far when he called Mr Y a scumbag (sic)" or "Mr X exceeded the bounds of good taste when he called Mr Y a 'scumbag'". But these two sentences are more directly judgmental than is "I do not know why Mister X goes so far as to assert...." –  user21497 May 9 '13 at 14:33
    
@BillFranke : I am sorry that my examples distracted from the actual question. I was not asking for an evaluation of "to go so far as to" in connection with an insult. Instead, I meant to ask for an evaluation of and for alternatives to the phrase "to go so far as to". Sorry, if that was unclear. Thanks nonetheless. –  ClintEastwood May 9 '13 at 18:05
    
@ClintE: Actually, the content of the sentence after "to go so far as to" is relevant. The new example also suggests that Mr X has overreached or overreacted by saying something your sentence implies should not have been said. Now it's not about using an insulting epithet, but it's still about a risky statement: "Z is blatantly invalid". The implication is that Mr X is wrong or has overstated his case because he hasn't sufficiently supported his claim. –  user21497 May 9 '13 at 23:40
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