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I found the following quote from Sally Ozonof the MIND Institute of the University of California, who discovered that some children who exhibit symptoms of autism recover completely in “Quotation of the Today’s” of New York Times (January 16):

"I know many of us as would rather have had our tooth pulled than use the word 'recover,' it was so unscientific. Now we can use it, though I think we need to stress that it's rare."

Is “Would rather have had one’s tooth pulled than doing (saying / using)” an idiom or common saying?

In connection with this quote, what is the function of ‘as’ in "I know many of us as would rather have had our tooth pulled ...”? Does it make no sense, if I remove ‘as’ from this sentence?

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  • To emphasize the unpleasantness of a thing even more, one might say, "I'd rather get a root canal" [colloquial expression for an endodontic procedure].
    – Robusto
    Jan 23, 2013 at 1:11
  • In the Google Books popularity contest of "things I'd rather not do", it's about middling; eat my own shit:20 hits; have a tooth pulled:812 hits; go blind:2200 (that's the popularity of writing/saying the activity, not necessarily doing it! :) Jan 23, 2013 at 3:30
  • It is a common saying, but there’s also the rather less common, but rather more excruciating, I would rather shove a red hot poker in my eye. Jan 23, 2013 at 9:08
  • @Barrie: Decisions, decisions! In the eye, or up the ass?. In some contexts, being slapped in the face with a wet fish might actually be the best option! Jan 23, 2013 at 14:22

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"Would rather have a tooth pulled" is a recognized expression of something considered extremely unpleasant which is used to offer a contrast to something that might seem potentially innocuous.

For example,

I would rather have a tooth pulled than visit my mother over Christmas again.

with the intended meaning of visiting my mother is so awful, having teeth pulled seems like a good time in comparison.

The as is part of the phrasing as would rather and can be understood as who would rather. It is a more literary-folksy style, and the phrasing is probably used to heighten the contrast or establish a sort of story-telling camaraderie.

As a side note, similar expressions include "like pulling teeth," which means to attempt something that is very difficult, and "like having teeth pulled," which means to endure something unpleasant.

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Is “Would rather have had one’s tooth pulled than doing (saying / using)” an idiom or common saying?

Yes, though it would be more often be in the first-person singular, and more often teeth than tooth, since having them several - or perhaps all of them - pulled is obviously a more unpleasant prospect, and hence a greater hyperbole. So, "I'd rather have my teeth pulled".

In connection with this quote, what is the function of ‘as’

It functions as a relative pronoun. It's well attested in respectable writing:

the temper is to be altered and amended, with such things as fortify and strengthen the heart and brain (Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy)

And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit / As maids call medlars when they laugh alone. (Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet")

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3, KJV)

A quick check finds one dictionary list it as "now dialectal" so they claim it was once standard English, but now lingers only in some regions. I'm inclined to agree, but note that some other dictionaries have no such warning.

Does it make no sense, if I remove ‘as’ from this sentence?

Worse, it makes different sense. You could though replace it with that or who.

Consider that "I know many of us that..." and "I know many of us..." means something subtly different. The first claims to know many people within the group denoted by us who the rest of the second describes. The second claims to the knowledge that there are many people within the group that the rest of the sentence describes. While that amounts to the much the same thing, it is a different claim to degree of certainty, and the first allows that it could be true of everyone more readily than the second.

Edit: A clearer example might be given by the following true statements:

I know many people speak Cherokee.

This is true. I know that there are 16,400 native speakers of the Cherokee language, along with some others who have learnt it. I do not know any of these people personally, but I know that they exist, and that's what this statement is about.

I know many people speak as speak Danish.

This is true, because I personally know quite a few people who speak that language. This statement is not about the fact that there are people who speak Danish, but that I know some of them.

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  • "I know many of us would rather..." is different from "I know many of is as would rather..."? What does 'as' add? It just seems out of place.
    – Mitch
    Jan 23, 2013 at 13:59
  • @Mitch It adds the same thing that that or who would add.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 26, 2013 at 0:27
  • OK, but for non-native speakers, the nuance it adds is minimal in comparison to the labor to try to use it and parse it in the OPs sentence.
    – Mitch
    Jan 26, 2013 at 16:38
  • @Mitch what are we to do, file a bug complaint against the language?
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 26, 2013 at 16:46
  • Jon, I think that's what we're doing, explaining that this is a strange and difficult usage.
    – Mitch
    Jan 26, 2013 at 17:42

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