Like It Or Not
Posted by Neal on April 1, 2008
I’m sure all my grammar-conscious readers have laughed over sentences like this one:
I wish I had a house like you.
Ha, ha! Funny, right? The speaker wishes he had a house that resembles you! Or maybe he means a house that is as friendly, supportive, and nonjudgmental as you are. Or maybe it’s just a mistake, and the speaker meant to say
I wish I had a house like yours.
And then there’s George Michael, who sings,
I know not everybody
has a body like you.
This one could pass, depending on your philosophical stance on whether one consists only of one’s body or if there’s a soul that persists after the body is gone. So I won’t pick on that one.
But even though careful writers will avoid errors like the above, there’s a whole class of widespread similar mistakes that I’ve never heard a complaint about. Get a load of these:
- In a clublike atmosphere, Jackson’s Steakhouse satisfies.
No: The atmosphere is not like a club; it’s like a club’s atmosphere
- Or the apes with human-like feet, adapted for bipedal movement?
No: Their feet are not like humans; their feet are like humans’ feet.
- The animal also had a parrotlike beak and a large horn over its nose.
No: Its beak was not like a parrot; its beak was like a parrot’s beak.
- I had a parrotlike tendency to repeat things.
No: Your tendency to repeat things was not like a parrot; it was like a parrot’s tendency to repeat things.
- Some of these fireworks are not just loud pops but some make cannonlike sounds.
No: The sounds are not like a cannon; they are like a cannon’s sounds.
- Triceratops possessed a strong, turtlelike beak.
No: Its beak was not like a turtle; it was like a turtle’s beak.
- Tirelessly touring, the band has a cult-like status to their die-hard army of fans.
No: The band’s status is not like a cult; it is like the status of a cult.
- News organisations should not go into ostrich-like denial but open themselves up.
No: Their denial is not like an ostrich; it is like an ostrich’s denial.
- An octopus-like obsession with loyalty
No: their obsession is not like an octopus; it is like an octopus’s obsession.
- Momus continues his stalker-like obsession with Marxy.
No: his obsession is not like a stalker; it is like a stalker’s obsession.
- Its primary tenet seems to be the lemming-like tendency to mob attack anyone who doesn’t bow before it.
No: its tendency is not like a lemming; it is like a lemming’s tendency.
Now for some good examples:
- Ankylosaurus protected itself with spikes, bony plates of armor, and a long clublike tail.
Yes: Its tail was like a club.
- Discusses the selection and care of the parrotlike bird known as the cockatiel.
Yes: The cockatiel is like a parrot.
- He aims the cannonlike weapon.
Yes: The weapon is like a cannon.
- The turtlelike device is the sibling to Roomba, which had already won our hearts for its automated vacuuming.
Yes: The device is like a turtle.
- Leica has a cult-like following among classic camera aficionados.
Yes: Its following is like a cult.
- The earliest fossil of ostrich-like birds is the Central European Palaeotis.
Yes: The birds are like ostriches.
As for the bad examples, they should of course be corrected to human’s-like feet, parrot’s-like beak/tendency, cannon’s-like sound, turtle’s-like beak, cult’s-like status, etc. It’s a disgrace how even the best writers are oblivious to this lapse in logic. To those of you with sufficient regard for proper grammar and attention to detail to have already been taking care to write ostrich’s-like denial, stalker’s-like obsession, and lemming’s-like tendency, I salute you! You have the souls of grammarians! Or should I say, grammarian’s-like souls!