Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was reading The Tipping Point this morning, and the author spoke of how Winston's slogan in the 1950s that went "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" was very memorable because of its ungrammaticality. Apparently, back then, this was noticeably incorrect, but when I first heard it, I didn't think anything was wrong with it. In fact, I hear "like" being using in this fashion quite often and "as" much less. In my own writing, I typically use "as" as opposed to "like," but I would personally phrase the slogan as "Winston tastes as good as a cigarette should." That has a slightly different meaning, but the correct version of the slogan sounds odd to me.

As I am much more an advocate for descriptive linguistics than prescriptive grammar, I have to come to the conclusion that using "like" as a conjunction in that way isn't "incorrect" because broad stretches of the population now use it, but do grammarians now consider it to be correct?

Here's more information about the controversy over this slogan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winston_tastes_good_like_a_cigarette_should#Grammar_controversy

share|improve this question
    
Interesting stuff! Please link to the "controversy" as well as the book in your post. –  coleopterist Aug 5 '12 at 17:19
    
Done, and... done. –  Nick Anderegg Aug 5 '12 at 17:20

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I think it has become more acceptable to use like where many writers might once have used only as. In his book The Careful Writer (copyright 1965), Theodore Bernstein has an entertaining entry for Like/As (page 258) that includes this:

Shorts are not acceptable dinner attire in most better-grade restaurants. There is no really logical reason for that, although restaurants could advance other kinds of reasons. But it takes a daring soul to defy the proscription. Similarly, the use of like as a conjunction ("In an experimental water tank, quartz crystals beamed sound like floodlights beam light") is not acceptable in better-grade writing, although there is no logical reason why it should not be.... There is no logical reason why like should not be regarded as a conjunction; on the contrary, there are sound logical and historical reasons why it should be. And yet ... yet ... there are those objections by grammarians. Reasonable or unreasonable, they are a force in the language as it exists, as contrasted perhaps with how it should exist. The force has been exerted through generations of teaching and precept so that the objections are strongly entrenched. That does not mean that they are eternally entrenched. Indeed, there is every sign that the popular usage is finding its way more and more into print in the form of AD-DICTION: "Winston tastes good—like a cigarette should"; "Flattens hills like it flattens the floor." Perrin says (1942 edition): "If editors and publishers did not enforce the use of as instead of like according to the rule in their stylebooks, it is possible that like would become the dominant form, and it increasingly appears in print." The belief is well founded only in part. Not only editors but also most writers have an ingrained distaste for like, and do not merely adhere to a rule in their stylebooks. It will take more than a fiat by an authority on usage or an undiscriminating count of noses to bring about a change. The change is not here yet, and the serious writer who uses like as a conjunction still does so at his peril. Some eminent writers have appeared in the restaurant in shorts, but their eminence has perhaps protected them. The evidence—and it is significant—seems to be that far more eminent writers have avoided appearing in shorts.

Fast-forward nearly 50 years, and you know that Bernstein was right, that the proscription to use like as a conjunction is not eternally entrenched.

In his book The Grammar Bible (copyright 1999), Michael Strumpf writes (p. 272):

In colloquial speech, like is accepted by many as a subordinate conjunction. Language is forever changing, and usage ultimately determines what is right and what is wrong despite the protestations of the purists. Purist though I am, I do not stubbornly resist change, even if it occasionally rankels! The use of like as a conjunction in contemporary English is so widespread that no one can deny that the word has found a new role. Few would argue with the grammar of a sentence such as "It looks like rain," but the sentence contains a subordinate clause introduced by like. The verb has been omitted from the subordinate clause like rain. Even The American Heritage Dictionary acknowledges the legitimacy of using like as a conjunction when the verb has been removed from the subordinate clause. Those who avoid using like as a conjunction across the board will find their sentences to be tortured.

share|improve this answer

There never was a general principle as to why like could not be used conjunctively, and it is now strongly supported by corpus data from around the English-speaking world.

'The Cambridge Guide to English Usage'

share|improve this answer
    
So basically, it was viewed as "incorrect" because it was an uncommon construction at the time, making it stick out, but on further review, it's never been incorrect? –  Nick Anderegg Aug 5 '12 at 17:38
2  
@Nick Anderegg: I won’t attempt to summarise the entire article, but it points out that objections to this use were not endorsed by Fowler as long ago as 1926. –  Barrie England Aug 5 '12 at 17:42
    
+1 for the great reference. I hope other people might want to apreciate that. –  user19148 Aug 5 '12 at 18:23
1  
@Carlo_R. If everyone had a copy, there might be fewer questions here! –  Barrie England Aug 5 '12 at 18:29

According to the article you provided, people in 1954 criticized the advertising slogan because the better version for them would be:

Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.

which is different from how you would personally rephrase it:

Winston tastes as good as a cigarette should.

The shift from the first can easily be explained.


To answer your question, "like" in informal spoken English is very commonly substituted to "as + S + V" now. They both mean "in the same way as."

This story brings to mind the case of Mcdonalds' "I'm Lovin' It." There were (and still are) people who criticized the transgression. But I think the strong reaction over the new use of "like" in 1954 wouldn't be mirrored by us. Our generation and immediate generations before us are more receptive to (some) creative twists of grammar like that by Mcdonalds.

share|improve this answer
1  
I'm one of those who don't approve of McDonalds' usage of to love in the continuous form and I keep pointing it out to my students as an example of something they should be aware of but which they should avoid. Besides, I don't think that the creative minds behind the slogan are doing McDonalds a favour, if you keep in mind that the continuous form is used for temporary and transient situations... –  Paola Aug 5 '12 at 23:24
    
I understand. But Mcdonald's isn't exactly alone in employing that. There's the band the Scorpions and people in the fashion industry. Though I would agree that especially for ESL learners it is best avoided –  Cool Elf Aug 6 '12 at 13:13

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.