What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to internalise its meaning:

so much as = [with negative] Even:

I couldn't find the etymology for this adverbial phrase? Is this the correct term?

Example from p 42, Mastering the National Admissions Test for Law, Mark Shepherd

Unlike many of the essays that you will have written in the past, the LNAT [a test] does not seek to test factual knowledge, so much as understanding and the ability to develop persuasive arguments. Almost without fail, there will be subtleties to the question that are not immediately obvious and that will set apart those candidates with a genuine insight into the subject from those with a superficial knowledge.

  • 'Not so/as much as' (a brass farthing) = 'not even' ... they're both negative limiting modifiers. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 5 '14 at 9:53
  • In this example, it means but rather. – bib Sep 5 '14 at 12:19

As bib observes in a comment above, the meaning of "so much as [understanding and the ability]" in the OP's example is "but rather [to understand and to be able]." Alternatively, you could read it as meaning "as much as it does [understanding and the ability]."

Instances in which so much as carries the meaning "even" arise in contexts like the one that Edwin Ashworth cites in a comment above: "Not so much as a brass farthing." The idiomatic sense of "even" that so much as has in this case is quite specific. Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) identifies it among the definitions of even, as follows:

even adv ... 2 ... d : — used as an intensive to indicate a small or minimum amount {didn't even try}

This usage, though commonplace both for even and for so much as, by no means constitutes the situation in which either term is most frequently encountered. Unfortunately, the Eleventh Collegiate doesn't make this situation at all clear. The single definition of so much as that it offers is essentially identical to the one that the OP cites:

so much as adv : EVEN 2d {scowls if I so much as look at him}

The dictionary's failure to cover other senses of so much as is extremely disappointing, especially since readers whose grasp of English is somewhat unsteady may conclude (as the OP did here) that the only accepted use of so much as in English is "as an intensive to indicate a small or minimum amount." That conclusion is both inaccurate and misleading, but it's also easy to reach on the basis of MW's skimpy coverage. Regrettably, Merriam-Webster's failure to identify other valid meanings of so much as unwittingly encourages misunderstanding of the phrase.

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