as good as

A little while ago, I reflected on the idiom as good as in things like

He as good as called me a liar.
They’re as good as dead.

(where goodness doesn’t figure in the matter at all). The idiom is venerable and in common use; undoubtedly, most people don’t think about its composition at all. But occasionally usage writers will object to it.

Three dictionaries on the idiom:

[Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms (2003)]   as good as: almost or nearly   According to him, the report is as good as done. She owes me an apology – she as good as called me a liar.

[NOAD2]   as good as — very nearly –: she’s as good as here.   • used of a result which will inevitably follow: if we pass on the information, he’s as good as dead. [Note the useful separation of senses; (very) nearly or practically would not be a good substitute for as good as in as good as dead.]

[OED2]   as good as: advb. phr. = Practically, to all intents and purposes. [cites from 1436 on]

Then from MWDEU:

as good as  This adverbial phrase is disparaged by MacCracken & Sandison 1917 as an “undesirable colloquialism” for practically. And Shaw 1975 finds it “wordy” for practically. You can safely ignore both criticisms. Consider, for instance, Shaw’s objection. As good as has eight letters and two blank spaces and has three syllables. Practically has eleven letters, three syllables in the most common pronunciation and four syllables in another. Practically has more letters and as many or more syllables.

MWDEU gives “impeccable standard” cites from 1954, 1948, and 1955.

On MacCracken & Sandison 1917: It had been a colloquialism for almost 500 years? Presumably, they found it colloquial in tone — but then usage writers are sometimes inclined to find idioms (at least, those that are not decidedly formal ) colloquial. They should have looked at actual usage, rather than going on their first impressions.

In Shaw’s defense, as good as is three words, while practically is one. But “wordy” is usually used of expressions that are believed to have “needless words” (in Strunk’s formulation) and could be fixed by omitting one or more of them — which is not tlhe case for as good as.

[Bonus: English has some other equative — as Adj as — idioms besides as good as: as long as ‘since’, as long as ‘provided that’, and topic-marking as far as X goes / is concerned:

As long as you’re up, get me a Grant’s.
As long as you feed him, he’ll be cooperative.
As far as tomorrow goes / is concerned, we’ll take things as they come.

There are probably more.]

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