Drifting as far as

This comment from musician Les Claypool caught my ear on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday:

(1) It’s a wonderful place to be, as far as a creative person.

This is an instance of verbless topic-restricting as far as (AsFarAs for short, labeled “prepositional as far as” in MWDEU), but one drifting some from its earlier uses and now serving as a more general restrictor — in (1), with as far as a creative person roughly paraphrasable as for a creative person, restricting the applicability of the assertion in it’s a wonderful place to be.

Background. There’s a fair literature on AsFarAs, most especially in section 1 of MWDEU‘s article on as far as, so far as (pp. 127-8) and in

Rickford, John R.; Thomas A. Wasow; Norma Mendoza-Denton; & Juli Espinoza. 1995. Syntactic variation and change in progress: Loss of the verbal coda in topic-restricting as far as constructions.  Lg 71.1.102-31. [hereafter, RWME]

(On this blog, discussion here, with a followup here.)

The historical antecedents are topic-restricting expressions with verbs: as/so far as NP is concerned, as/so far as concerns NP, as/so far as NP goes. So AsFarAs originates as a truncation. RWME had (p. 123) three 19th-century occurrences (two from Jane Austen, one from Herman Melville, all with very heavy NPs in the construction); then five more in the 20th century before 1959; then an increasing flood; and then, quickly, a wave of critics complaining (though Fowler seems to have gotten there first in his 1926 Modern English Usage (pp. 170-1): “As or so far as x cannot be used as short for as far as x goes or so far as concerns x — clearly Fowler wouldn’t be telling you that AsFarAs “cannot be used” if people hadn’t been using it; “cannot” here means ‘must not’).

The excoriation of AsFarAs continued from the early 1960s to current times. Here’s Rob Colter’s 2005 Grammar to Go: The Portable A-Zed Guide to Canadian Usage (3rd ed.) on the subject:

More and more people are not bothering to end with “concerned” when they begin with “as far as.” Maybe they think they are saying “as for.”  Whatever the reason, we should be concerned. (p. 6)

Colter is about 50 years late in lamenting the spread of AsFarAs. Here, in contrast, from Jeremy Butterfield’s 2007 Oxford A-Z of English Usage, is a less peevish assessment:

well established in American usage and is a useful shorthand for the older as far as … is/are concerned. Nevertheless, many more conservative British speakers are likely to object to it, so it is best avoided with a British audience. (p. 14)

Important note. When someone says that AsFarAs is a “truncation” of an older expression or is “a useful shorthand” for it, they’re merely noting the history of the usage, not making a claim about its status in the current language, in particular in language production. In fact, as far as current English is concerned [note: I’m not myself a user of AsFarAs], AsFarAs is simply another construction of the language, with its own distribution in speech and writing — and available for semantic change, independent of its historical antecedents.

This is what I see in (1) and some other examples I’ve collected, in contrast to straightforward topic-restricting (‘as for X’) occurrences of AsFarAs, as in:

Herman Cain: ‘As far as a settlement, I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn’t for much because I didn’t do anything’ (link)

The “full forms” of (1) are indeed possible —

(2a) It’s a wonderful place to be, as far as a creative person is concerned.

(2b) As far as a creative person is concerned, it’s a wonderful place to be.

but I see these as not quite discourse-equivalent to (1), and (1) resists paraphrases with topic-restricting prepositions like as for and with respect to (which prefer sentence-initial position, so I’ve altered the word order):

(1′) ??As for a creative person, it’s a wonderful place to be.

(1″) ??With respect to a creative person, it’s a wonderful place to be.

Two examples similar to (1):

What should I do as far as a gift for my teen son who is a daddy. He just started working his butt off doing landscaping. (link) [as far as ‘for’ or ‘as’]

What are the ramifications as far as a divorce due to adultery? (link) [as far as ‘for’ or ‘of’]

Other examples seem to be somewhere in between topic-restricting uses of AsFarAs and uses of as far as as a more generalized preposition (in the neighborhood of ‘for’); the intentions of the writers are not entirely clear (perhaps even to them):

Habitat for Humanity – “Very personally rewarding as far as a volunteer position.” (link)

I love all blues, these are my favorites. As far as a live performance I like to see Buddy Guy, Little Milton and Johnny Winter play live. (link)

In any case, it looks as if as far as is developing more general prepositional uses in addition to its topic-restricting use (and, of course, its older use as a spatial preposition, as in “We drove as far as the edge of town”).

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