Monday, January 13, 2020

"but for me" vs. "but as for me"

Dr. Jeff Hodges thinks I erred in writing the following in my review of "Dolittle":

It might be that little kids will enjoy the film, but for me, as a crotchety 50-something, I had trouble understanding how the filmmakers could assemble this much amazing acting and voice talent, then shoehorn the cast into a plodding, predictable narrative utterly lacking in imagination and deep sentiment.
By Jeff's lights, the phrase "but for me" ought to read, "but as for me." In my reply to Jeff's comment, I acknowledged that "but as for me" is a perfectly legitimate turn of phrase, but I also said that I didn't see how what I'd written was wrong. By my lights, "but for me" is merely shorthand for "but from my perspective." I openly mused as to whether "but for me" and "but as for me" might even be interchangeable because I was having trouble thinking of cases in which one phrase couldn't be switched out for the other.

Then something occurred to me:
I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
—Patrick Henry, 1775, misusing a semicolon (they tended to do this in the 1700s)
Maybe it's a function of the fame and venerability of the above quotation, but excising the "as" from Henry's iconic utterance would, in my opinion, diminish it.

But why do I think this?

That's what I want to explore here. In my reply to Jeff, I said the following:
It's an interesting question, though, because I'm now wondering whether "but for me" and "but as for me" are interchangeable in all contexts or only in some, and what rule, if any, might determine that. Both phrases introduce an independent clause thanks to the coordinating conjunction "but," with the "for me"/"as for me" being grammatically irrelevant because it doesn't determine the grammatical nature of what follows the "but."

I'll have to ponder this point. Am I effectively arguing that the "as" is never necessary? I instinctively don't want to go that far because, as I wrote at the beginning of this reply, I think "but as for me" is perfectly legitimate, yet I can't think of a case in which the two phrases would lead to two distinctly different semantic outcomes.

This is all a roundabout way of saying "I don't know." I don't know what grammatical imperative there might be to add the "as" unless we're dealing with a petrified expression,* and at the same time, I'm not convinced that the phrase is a petrified expression, which I'd why I'm comfortable with what I wrote.
We can get more venerable than Patrick Henry. How about the Bible?

Psalm 73:1-3:
Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
But lookee here, at the same psalm, verses 27-28:
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
This seems to be a clear-cut example of interchangeability. In the latter quote from the psalm, "But for me" really ought to have a comma after it, but the main point is that the phrase means what I earlier said it meant: "but from my perspective." This makes "But for me" the functional equivalent of the "But as for me" from Psalm 73:1-3.

There is some possible ambiguity inherent in the phrase "but for me." This ambiguity comes from the "but for" part of the locution. In some contexts, "but for" can mean something like "except for" or "had it not been for." (See more here. Scroll down to "idioms for but.")
        But for Kevin's "nay" vote, everyone approved the new pube-shaving law.
        I'd have lost my scrote, but for your deft intervention.

As I noted in my reply to Jeff, though, the "but for me" phrase in my review can't be taken to mean anything other than "but from my perspective" unless one is wilfully misreading what I wrote. My meaning is pretty obvious.

None of this gets us any closer to finding or constructing a rule to determine the usage of "but for me" versus "but as for me." I can, however, note that in the above discussion of ambiguity, what follows the sentence-ending "but for"** (second sentence, above) is a noun phrase. What follows "but for me"/"but as for me," by contrast, is an independent clause, which suggests that we're looking at a standard comma-conjunction situation in which a sentence element separates two independent clauses. It's for this reason that I tentatively submit that the "for me" and the "as for me" are grammatically irrelevant: they don't help to determine the grammatical nature of what follows: only the "but" does that, or so it seems to me.

Anyway, the Bible quotes cited above are enough to satisfy me regarding the question of whether I was incorrect in my phrasing. Jeff, as a Christian, knows that if he were to challenge the phrasing of holy scripture, he would burn in hell for all eternity, so I'm sure he'll grant that the Bible quote*** from Psalm 73:28 is correctly phrased and, by extension, that my own locution is also correct.****

As for whether there's some rule to determine when to use "but for me" versus "but as for me," well... the search goes on.

Look at the following sentences and decide for yourself whether "but for" or "but as for" is more apropos:

1. For most people, G-strings were a luxury, but for Ken, they were a matter of life and death.
2. I don't give a flying fuck what others may do, but for me, gimme my goddamn freedom or cram a live grenade up my ass.
3. Most of the kids hated the leprous goat, but for Mary, the horrifying animal was the only reason to visit the petting zoo.

*A petrified expression is a group of words whose word order cannot be changed, largely for reasons of tradition and historical force. The classic joke that makes fun of the contention that you can't end a sentence with a preposition uses a petrified expression—"put up with"—to make its point: "That is something up with which I will not put!" sounds ridiculous. The word order in the phrase "put up with" cannot be altered. This is a petrified expression, and because it's petrified, it's legitimate to end a sentence containing that phrase with the phrase's preposition... which further means that you can end a sentence with a preposition.

**The phrase "but for" reminds me of the movie "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut," in which a French kid tells the South Park kids that he'll need various types of equipment, plus a buttfer. When one of the kids falls into the trap and asks, "What's a buttfer?", the French kid replies, "A butt is for pooping."

***The quotes are from ESV, i.e., the English Standard Version of the Bible, published in 2001. Learn more about ESV here.

****I'll be burning in hell right alongside Jeff, given my remark about the need for a comma after "But for me" in Psalm 73:28. That need for a comma does highlight yet another grammatical quirk: the reason there needs to be a comma there is that the phrase, as a whole, is operating as an introductory phrase (again, see Commas, Part 1) before the independent clause that follows it. This complicates my thesis that the "but" is functioning as part of a comma-conjunction element to separate two independent clauses. I think that other persnickety grammarians might parse the situation differently as a result.


  1. I hate to wrench a spanner out of the monkey works, but I now think my issue is not one of grammar, but of style. I wonder if this would sound better:

    "It might be that little kids will enjoy the film, but as for me, a crotchety 50-something, I had trouble understanding how the filmmakers could assemble this much amazing acting and voice talent, then shoehorn the cast into a plodding, predictable narrative utterly lacking in imagination and deep sentiment."

    What do you think?

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  2. I can tell you're very attached to that "as," but is there anything other than a stylistic justification for that attachment? I mean, I'm posing this question to you, but I'm also posing it to myself because I'm still not sure what the "as" adds to the sentence. As I tried to show with the quotes from Psalm 73, the "as" doesn't really seem necessary. And as for style, the inclusion of "as" feels, to me, a bit stilted and old-school, like an evocation of Patrick Henry. Ah, well... style is a subjective thing.

    Would you also say that Psalm 73:28 is in need of an "as"?

    How about we think of it this way? If I rewrote the sentence thus—

    It might be that little kids will enjoy the film. For me, though, as a crotchety 50-something, I had trouble understanding...

    —would you see how there's no need for an "as" preceding "for me"? Or would you disagree?

    For what it's worth, I don't have any quarrel with deleting the second "as," which is definitely an improvement over keeping both "as"es in. But my original text also has only one "as," and the style doesn't stick in my craw the way it does in yours.

  3. Fascinating discussion. But as for me, I'm staying out of it. I know when I'm out of my league!

  4. Well, John, I guess you've revealed where your loyalties lie.

    And to think that I was going to serve you a full-scale brisket-and-pulled-pork luncheon the next time you happened to be in Korea...

  5. Damn it! I stand corrected. I want that brisket!



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