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I am a native US English speaker, and my question today has to do with usage of the following phrase:

I might as well have [insert potential action] for all the good [previous action taken] did!

Somehow, this example from C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader always struck me as unexpected:

I might as well have behaved decently for all the good I did with my temper and swagger.

Only recently did I put my finger on why I found it odd: The character, Caspian, uses a positive or reasonable example to contrast the action he actually took... I feel like I'm used to hearing ridiculous or extreme potential examples put into that phrase. For example:

I might as well have clucked like a chicken for all the good trying to argue reason did!

I might as well have eaten rotten garbabe for all the good waiting in the food line did!

It seems like a significant difference in using the phrase:

I might as well have...

[reasonable, preferred action] VS. [unreasonable, extreme action]

... for all the good [unsuccessful previous action] did.

Does that varied usage have any particular rhyme or reason? Are there examples to show that the variation can be traced to regional or historic/temporal differences? (I am also open to proof that my experience might be unique and that I've contrived this variation...)

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As you noticed, this construction is usually used when you take normal, positive action and it's ineffective at reaching a goal, so the action after "I might as well have" is some ridiculous alternative that's usually less work.

But it can be used with any pair of contrasting actions where the "might as well have" action is likely to be easier. In the line you quoted, the protagonist is someone who acted badly in the past (he acted out his temper). They've come to realize that this didn't achieve anything useful, and was probably more work than just behaving well. Consider how much work throwing a tantrum is, compared to just doing what you're being asked to do -- if it doesn't work, all that huffing and puffing was wasted.

From this character's earlier perspective, acting decently was absurd.

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  • Yes, that is an interesting take! I hadn't thought of his viewing "behaved decently" as an absurd option for him to have taken. 🤔
    – LHM
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 3:21

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