Saturday, June 18, 2005

Compared With vs Compared To

I saw many amazing things in the Galapagos, but what could compare to the following sentence from the Continental Airlines in-flight magazine?

"... [Nick] Hornby's voice consistently echoes to universal acclaim, generating a fandom rivallling that of another London great, Charles Dickens, with whom Hornby is frequently compared." That's from memory, but I reread the claim a few times to be sure it meant what it seemed to. Perhaps there's a sly use of "compared with" instead of "compared to" - i.e., maybe the article's author meant that there are a lot of book reviewers out there writing "Hornby can't hold a candle to Dickens" at this very moment - but probably I'm splitting a split hair [but see 1 below].

Here's the opening paragraph of Bleak House:
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
I was going to quote the next paragraph, but I saw the next few were also as good, and the next few, and ...

I finally convinced Mrs. R to read Great Expectations a few months ago. She thought it was quote unquote fabulous. Wake me up when Hornby writes something that will produce the same effect.


  1. From Fowler's Modern English Usage on "compare": In the sense suggest or state a similarity is regularly followed by to, not with; in the sense examine or set forth the details of a supposed similarity or estimate its degree, it is regularly followed by with, not to. He compared me to Demosthenes means that he suggested that I was comparable to him or put me in the same class; He compared me with Demosthenes means that he instituted a detailed comparison or pointed out where and how far I resembled or failed to resemble him.


Yes, the above is a fake footnote. So shoot me.

Oh, by the way, note the odd lack of punctuation in Fowler's entry above: "In the sense suggest or state a similarity is regularly followed" is exactly how it begins, while "degree," is also verbatim. I also like "class; He".

3 Comments:

Anonymous crionna said...

mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth

An incredibly apt description. I'm reminded of the "mud season" in the Rockies.

22/6/05 11:27  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Mud season? No, it's garbage season!

Mud season!

Garbage season!



Sorry.

22/6/05 12:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL. People actually compare Hornby to(?) Dikens? Propesterous!

31/10/06 13:48  

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