Redundancy in the prime of ‘like’

February 18, 2012

From Muriel Spark’s novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961):

Meanwhile Miss Brodie said:
  ‘And Mrs Lloyd — is she a woman, would you say, in her prime?’
  ‘Perhaps not yet,’ said Sandy.
  ‘Well, Mrs Lloyd may be past it,’ Jenny said. ‘It’s difficult to say with her hair being long on her shoulders. It makes her look young although she may not be.’
  ‘She looks really like as if she won’t have any prime,’ Sandy said.
  ‘The word “like” is redundant in that sentence. What is Mrs Lloyd’s Christian name?’
  ‘Deirdre,’ said Jenny, and Miss Brodie considered the name as if it were new to her . . .

Like is indeed redundant in that sentence, and you could equally say as if is. There’s nothing inherently wrong with like as if, but it has too colloquial a feel for the formal register Miss Brodie encourages in her students — more “proper” speech being advantageous in conservative society. COHA shows like as if used mostly in casual language.

Note also the recurrent use of said to report dialogue. Some writers are suspicious of its ordinariness, readily replacing it with such words as replied, spoke, enquired and exclaimed, but these draw more attention to themselves and hence away from the story.

Related links:
Omit needless criticisms of redundancy
Jessica Love on quotative like

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