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As good as it gets

Posted by Smokey Stover on August 07, 2004

In Reply to: As good as it gets posted by Smokey Stover on August 07, 2004

: : : Do you like Elvis' songs? in "Mean Woman Blues":
: : : "I got a woman as mean as she can be."

: : : I've heard this phrase "as adj. as one can be" a lot.
: : : What does that mean?

: : : Have you other examples?
: : : Thanks!

: : It means very mean, or as mean as possible.
: : That's as good as it gets.
: Sphinx's example of the use of "" is as normal and idiomatic as can be, and so is Henry's. This is how the expression is almost always used nowadays.
: The first "as" is an adverb preceding an adjective, adverb, adjectival phrase,or adverbial phrase. The second "as" may be a conjunction, an adverb, or possibly preposition, as far as I know, depending on what follows it, which can be a clause, a phrase, a noun or verb or almost any part of speech. Dast I quote the relevant part of a very long article in OED? (Although Part C is mentioned I only quote from A and B.) Because the uses of "as" are, syntactically, sometimes complex or obscure I thought there might be some interest in this among Phrase Finders other than Sphinx. The OED:
: The uses of as are here considered, A. in the main sentence, B. in the subordinate sentence, C. in phrases. At the end of B. are some phraseological combinations originating in ellipsis.
: 1. A. In a main sentence, as Antecedent or Demonstrative Adverb.
: II. With as also in the relative clause:
: As (alswa, also, alsa, alse, als, ase, as) (alswa, etc.).
: 1. 3. Of quantity: In that degree; to that extent...(in or to which)... Expressing the Comparative of Equality: as good as gold; as wise as fair; as strong as ever; as soon as you can; and in innumerable proverbial similes, as black as jet, as brave as a lion, etc.

: c1175 Cott. Hom. 239 Alse lange alse thé lefede &..alse longe as íc lefie. c1220 Hali Meid. 5 Syon [is] ase muchel on englische leodene ase heh sihe. a1300 Cursor M. 823 Als fast als thai had don that sinne. Ibid. 7526 Thar he stod als still os stake. c1314 Guy Warw. 87 Also litel als he may. c1325 E.E. Allit. P. B. 984 Al-so salt as ani se. c1325 Coeur de L. 2524 Alsoo faste As quarrel off the arweblast. 1377 LANGL. P. Pl. B. IV. 195 Als longe as owre lyf lasteth. c1386 CHAUCER Prol. 287 Al so lene was his hors as is a rake. c1420 Amadace xli, Als gay Als any erliche mon. c1425 WYNTOUN Cron. VIII. 165 Alsa frely as before. 1485

: B. In a subordinate sentence, as a Relative or Conjunctive Adverb, introducing a clause which expresses I. II. the mode (manner and degree), whence also III. the time, place, IV. reason, V. purpose, result, of the principal sentence; passing into VI. a relative pronoun, a relative particle, VII. a merely subordinating conjunction, and VIII. a limiting or restrictive particle.
: 1. I. Of quantity or degree. (Preceded by adj. or adv.)
: 1. a. With antecedent as (alswa, alswo, also, alse, als, etc.) which degree, to what extent. Expressing with antecedent as, the Comparative of Equality.
: [See A. II. 3, all the quotations for which also illustrate this.]
: b. Expressing a comparison with a hypothetical fact or state expressed by the subjunctive: As if, as though. (Cf. 9.) arch. [SS]

: 1366 MANDEVILLE, As wel as thei had ben of the same Contree. 1399 LANGL. Rich. Redeless III. 46 Thanne cometh ther a congioun..As not of his nolle as he the nest made. c1590 MARLOWE Jew Malta I. i. 59 Will serve as well as I were present there. 1795 SOUTHEY Joan of Arc v. 325 As certain of success As he had made a league with Victory.
: c1175 Cott. Hom. 239 Alse lange alse {thé lefede &..alse longe as íc lefie. c1220 Hali Meid. 5 Syon [is] ase muchel on englische leodene ase heh sih the. a1300 Cursor M. 823 Als fast als thai had don that sinne. Ibid. 7526 "..

More on meaning and syntax of "as ... as." Meaning: most European languages have equivalents to this correlative expression, which the OED denotes as the Comparative of Equality. In French, "aussi ... comme," in German, "wie ... als," or is it "als ... wie"? But some Asian languages may lack the equivalent, and there isn't really a satisfactory synonym. Perhaps we can get at the meaning by asking a question. "As good as gold." How good is it? Not less good than gold. "As fast as lightning." How fast is it? Not less fast than lightning. No faster, either. "He's as good as his word." Sometimes one has to use a bit of imagination. How good is he, in actual action? He's no less good in action than he is in promising, than he is in his word. Syntax: there's no doubt that the first "as" is an adverb. The second seems to be described by OED as a Relative Conjunction or Adverbial Conjunction, although there's a good chance I've misunderstood, since I've never heard of either of these. When the second "as" introduces an adverb or adjective, as it often does, let's call it an adverb. When it introduces a clause, let's call it a conjunction. There are several words in English which can serve either as an adverb or as a conjunction, "than" being one of them. But often the second "as" introduces a noun. What shall we call it then? Shall we say that the noun is part of a clause in which the verb is elided or omitted? As good as gold [is]. It swam as silently and swiftly as a shark. As a shark [swims]? Well, perhaps. Is there someone who can spell it out for small minds like mine? SS