Shakespeare’s “Like you like it”, part II

You may snicker at me, but I can’t help myself. eTrade just sent me one of those polished, glossy, over-produced marketing emails, informing me that:

you can diversify like never before with an E*TRADE Global Trading account.

Like never before? Do they speak English? Do they vet their junk mail? Is this supposed to be folksy (lest they sound “elitist”)?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is my earlier post on the subject.

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Shakespeare’s “Like You Like It” & my favorite grammar felony

Nothing deep today, just getting something off my chest and on the record (I heard that’s what blogs are for): It drives me nuts when people–dare I suggest that Americans are especially prone?–don’t know how (not) to use the words like and unlike.

Just to avoid the charge of snobbism, I’ll take an example from my very own (and very British) employer, The Economist, where an esteemed colleague this week let the following  slip into the sub-headline (what we call the “rubric”) of an article: Unlike in America, terrorism in Europe is often home-grown

Yuck! Pfui!

Now the exegesis, which I will also take from my esteemed employer, since we happen to have an (in)famous style guide (memorizing it may be the best investment you ever make in your life; I’m still working on it):

Under the entry for Like, Unlike, Johnny Grimmond, the Style Guide’s author, writes in his genius style:

Like and unlike govern nouns and pronouns, not verbs and clauses. So as in America not like in America, as I was saying, not like I was saying, as Grandma used to make them, not like Grandma used to make them, etc. English has no unas equivalent to unlike, so you must rephrase the sentence if you are tempted to write unlike in this context, unlike at Christmas, or unlike when I was a child.

If you find yourself writing She looked like she had had enough or It seemed like he was running out of puff, you should replace like with as if or as though, and you probably need the subjunctive: She looked as if she had had enough, It seemed as if he were running out of puff.

Like the hart panteth for the water brooks I pant for a revival of Shakespeare’s “Like You Like It”. I can see tense draftees relax and purr/When the sergeant barks, “Like you were.”/And don’t try to tell me that our well has been defiled by immigration;/Like goes Madison Avenue, like so goes the nation. — Ogden Nash

Fine, so what could my colleague’s rubric have said instead? The easiest re-write would have been: Europe, unlike America, often suffers home-grown terrorism.

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