12

When I use the phrase "so much," I normally mean it as a quantifier of an uncountable noun. That sounds pretty obtuse, but let me give examples:

  • Don't use so much sugar
  • The patient is in so much pain

This is similar to "Don't use so many potatoes," but you can count potatoes easily, but sugar is difficult, and pain is uncountable. Alright?

Here's the usage that confuses me:

  • You threw them away like so much trash. (from an episode of The Rookie)
  • Mama's giant cross-stitched bedspread would never be finished, and was so much ash. (from The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal)

Clearly, this usage is different, and it isn't meant to quantify the trash or the ash. It seems to emphasize the contrast between the subject and object (them vs trash, bedspread vs ash), and maybe to emphasize the negative aspect of the trash and ash. And yet, you could easily leave "so much" out of those sentences and not affect the meaning at all.

Am I missing a nuance?

And more importantly: Is there a name for this? Are there other phrases used in the same way? Are there rules about proper usage?

4
  • In the first examples, 'so much' = 'such a large amount of', whereas in the later examples 'so much' = 'an [untidy][unquantified] pile of' and looks like a compound quantifier (= 'x amount of'). 'Pile' might need substituting, for instance '[stinking] pool/puddle' with 'scum'. Sep 19 at 18:41
  • Might part of the problem be that you hope to compare "Mama's giant cross-stitched bedspread would never be finished, and was so much ash…"? In itself, that has no useful, if any meaning… there will always be an immense gap between whether Mama's bedspread is finished and whether, how or why it could or might be "… ash" in grammar, idiom. semantics or what. Sep 25 at 21:22
  • @RobbieGoodwin Maybe I'm missing your point, but I don't understand why you asked if this should be in ELL. I'm asking about usage that I've seen in English works. The two examples are not the only cases in which I've encountered, just two recent instances I remembered. The trash example was from a TV show and the ash one (which you describe as not comparable) is from a Hugo Award-winning novel. It's a common enough usage, and—as shown in the answers of Tinfoil Hat and Colin Fine—correct usage of an idiom. Sep 27 at 9:56
  • @CobusKruger I've deleted that Comment, since it wasn't helpful. Oct 16 at 21:22
19

You threw them away like so much trash means You threw them away as if they were trash.

like so much idiom

: like something that is
// The explanation sounded like so much nonsense.
// The house burned like so much paper.

Source: Merriam Webster — like so much

5
  • I feel as if "idiom" is the key here. Most idioms are short codewords to express a complex concept, but some are just fun. We're meaning "as if it were [something much worse]" but it's fun to mix in alternate ways of saying that. Sep 20 at 4:11
  • But why the "so much"? "Like" already means "as if they were" (as in "threw them away like trash"). Doesn't "so much" add any meaning or nuance?
    – Pablo H
    Sep 20 at 14:46
  • 8
    You are missing the full meaning, which is: as if they were the same amount of trash, i.e. as if they were pure trash and nothing else. In your defence, your Merriam-Webster link misses it too (but OED has it, according to Colin Fine's answer).
    – TonyK
    Sep 20 at 16:03
  • More specifically, it stems from "you threw them away as you would throw away an equal amount of trash". Sep 21 at 10:17
  • It's worth its weight in trash. Sep 21 at 23:15
20

This is the OED's sense 39 c. under head-word so:

c. adj. An equal sum or amount of (something).

One of the examples given is :

1885 E. Lynn Linton Autobiogr. Christopher Kirkland I. 219 Even my languages..were merely so much literary furniture.

Sense 37d. is the equivalent, for so many.

I think this sense is only used in a dismissive way, implying that whatever is compared is of little worth.

1
10

Your definition is correct and applicable here: “so much” = “this amount of”. The implication is that trash or ash is all that the item is, now. It suggests ignorance, or wilful dismissal, of any other value that the item may hold (or have held).

You threw them away like so much trash.

You threw them away like an amount of trash, with no consideration for their value.

The bedspread was so much ash.

The bedspread was reduced to merely this amount of ash, with no other worth.

In my experience (Australian English), this is an uncommon use of the phrase in modern speech, but it’s still understood well enough in writing.

0
0

You might also want to look up the definition and uses of the phrase "So much for ...", which is another idiomatic usage with some similarities.

1
  • 1
    Thanks. I understand "so much for" and even the "so much" usage that I asked about. The one I asked about just seemed almost superfluous, which "so much for" assuredly is not. Sep 21 at 11:31
0

Think of "so" in "so much" as the way it is used in the phrase "like so".

For example, say when followed by a physical demonstration: "You peel a mango like so."

It denotes equivalence or analogy, and of course "much" refers to quantity or extent.

1
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