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Yesterday on talk radio an interviewee speaking about Sudanese Northerner's being forced into the mountains and away from their farmlands by the Sudanese Army said the result was:

The men would leave and go foraging to gather nuts and berries, things like this.

I don't know where exactly the punctuation belongs since it was on the radio, so I did my best to put the comma in the right place before the phrase in question.

Is his phrasing correct? Or would ending with the phrase:

things like that.

be correct. Are they both acceptable? Are there meaningful or grammatical differences between the two?

For context, he didn't enumerate similar activities in the related line of questioning before or after the above, nor did he explicitly reference anything else he said in prior areas of discussions.

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Why do you think this might not be correct? –  Andrew Leach Jul 18 '12 at 22:43
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Hi Andrew, I added a question about the differences (as opposed to just correctness). The phrase just rang strangely in my ears, perhaps because I think of 'this' as something that can be shown or held or tangibly shared. The speaker was referring to something that he had observed, he wasn't pointing at a picture, or to people actually doing the activity he described, he was merely recounting it. –  NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 18 '12 at 23:01
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I'm pretty sure we've had several questions on this and that. It really hacks me off that ELU has the same "optimised" indexing facilities as all the other SE sites, so you can't search for words like that (or this, or or! :). –  FumbleFingers Jul 18 '12 at 23:39
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This is very interesting. I have noticed that it is quite common among speakers of English as a foreign language, whose first language is Romance, to use "like this" rather than "like that" much more often than would a native speaker. This might have something to do with the demonstrative pronouns in their languages, whose direct translations, they are told, are "this". –  JamesHH Jul 19 '12 at 0:18
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2 Answers

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I think what you're bumping into is not a question of grammar, but just an idiomatic usage. The only time 'things like this' sounds right to my ears is when there's an example in hand to compare to. And even then it feels a little awkward.

Gesturing toward the fruit basket, he said, "We're looking for apples, oranges... things like this."

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After referencing multiple dictionaries, I suppose I'm inclined to agree with you. One should always have more than one good language reference on hand. It seems 'this' is acceptable since it was 'immediately' discussed before using the phrase even though we're just talking about speech. Certainly 'that' would seem to work too, since what is being discussed isn't immediate, just the conversation. The speaker was non-native, as well, and I think I hear this more with mainland Europeans than people here in the U.S. that contributes to the 'off' feeling I get when I hear the phrase said. –  NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 18 '12 at 23:30
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But (metaphorically), the referent for "this" is as close to hand as it can be - the immediately preceding "nuts and berries". –  FumbleFingers Jul 18 '12 at 23:42
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I would say it depends on what the word "things" refers to. If "things" refers to the nuts and berries, I would always use "things like that", whereas if "things" refers to "leave and go foraging and gathering" – a common practise among foreigners – I would say "this" or "that" may be used equally. Using "that" would be the "default", if you will. And using "this" would be from the perspective that having just mentioned the action of "leaving and going to forage and gather" has brought the action to mind, as a concept to be held in one's mind thus warranting the use of "this".

Many times the same sentences may be correct with "this"/"that" interchanged where "that" generally will refer to the actual thing, and "this" oft times referring to its mental representation in a present conversation.

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Your answer is useful. I tried to download the episode of the show I thought it was, but their server is down or something. Indeed, if there is more than one action spoken of as well, it becomes ambiguous rather quickly. The speaker could even have said "leave and go foraging and gathering for…" ! –  NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 18 '12 at 23:37
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