As far as I (as non-native speaker) understand the words as in, this is short for for instance, as in:

Understanding “that” as in this statement

It's my impression that at some point in time people started to use as in in an ironical way, like:

He's dead, as in not alive.

Is this impression correct or have the words as in always been used this way? If this ironic use developed later, when was that?

  • 1
    I'd say it was used this way from the start, since both of usages are actually the same. The irony comes from explaining something that has an obvious meaning with something else equally obvious. By the way, He's dead as in not alive may not be ironic at all, if dead have some special meaning in the context (e.g. some professional slang) – Philoto Jan 24 '12 at 14:31
  • Yes, that's a good explanation of how the irony works! The reason why I suspect the irony developed later is that in Dutch a similar expression started to become popular some 5 years ago, and we are very easily influenced by English/American habits. – Gert Arnold Jan 24 '12 at 14:38
  • I don't think that qualifies as "irony". In your example, you are using words with their strictly literal meaning. You are re-stating the obvious. I'd call that redundancy or maybe tautology, not irony. Irony is when you use words with the opposite of their literal meaning. Like, I once read of a rich man who put in his will that he wanted to be buried sitting at the wheel of his expensive limousine, and so at the funeral they had a crane to lower the limousine into the grave. A bystander saw it and was heard to say, "Wow, that's really living!" That's irony. – Jay Jan 24 '12 at 14:54
  • @Jay Haha! You're probably right about the word 'irony', but I don't know a better term. Maybe the incongruity is in the fact that something that does not need explanation is explained nonetheless. – Gert Arnold Jan 24 '12 at 15:08
  • As in, "someone please do the ngrams research for me"? :) – JeffSahol Jan 24 '12 at 15:11

"As in" has always been used to provide a concrete example of a word. I would say that it has always had a slightly sarcastic or incredulous tone to it - it could be used to describe, say, a piece of art "its made of carrier bags - as in what you take your shopping home in".

The use more recently as in the OP is just taking this one stage further - using an accepted linguistic trick to make a point. "Dead - as in no longer alive" can be used to emphasise the point to someone - along the lines of "when I say dead, I mean dead. Not injured, dead. No longer alive, never coming back". I have heard it used not ironically, but more in this form for emphasis, to make sure the person has understood, when they may be struggling to understand.

  • Good point. I think there's a thin line between emphasizing and over-emphasizing. So this usage could be functional or it could be interpreted as irony or sarcasm - probably depending on the listener's mood. As you say The use more recently, would you agree that there has been some development in usage? – Gert Arnold Jan 25 '12 at 10:48
  • Yes I think it has developed in usage - it has become more used in popular culture, and therefore the precise meaning has adjusted. – Schroedingers Cat Jan 25 '12 at 11:50

It's nothing to do with "for instance". It is a normal expression meaning "such as occurs in", or "as may be found in".

I think you're right that the ironic use is comparatively recent, but I can't think of a way to determine when it started to appear.

  • Yes, your descriptions fit much better. Funny how hard it can be to put a connotation into words. – Gert Arnold Jan 24 '12 at 15:17
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    I've often heard it to mean "for instance," at least in American English, as a shorthand for "as in the case of." – choster Jan 24 '12 at 15:41

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