A Word, Please: A whopper of an error

There's a burger chain I hate. It's not their food I despise. If I've ever eaten there, I don't remember it. What bothers me is the company's advertising.

Anyone who's seen a Carl's Jr. TV commercial would surely guess that I hate their ads because they show young women or, I should say, parts of young women, displayed in bikinis, lingerie and low-cut tops.

But that guess would be wrong. The content of the ads is actually pretty humdrum — tired enough to make you wonder whether advertising isn't the world's second-oldest profession, or perhaps the first. No, the thing I hate about their ads is much harder to nail down. It's not the content. It's the tone. The announcer's voice drips with leering, proud-to-be-piggish privilege that triggers in me a visceral urge to dive for my remote control.

The only time I ever hear one of the company's commercials is when the remote is out of reach, as it was on a recent evening. But for once there was an upside to enduring the announcer's smug, syrupy pitch. In the ad, the announcer said that one of the chain's burgers has "twice the meat and cheese as a Big Mac." That little "as" was a bad call that provided me a good opportunity to write about prepositions and conjunctions.

Most people would have used an "of" in place of "as": "twice the meat and cheese of a Big Mac." And many would agree that "as" sounds weird.

"As" is usually a conjunction, specifically, a subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions introduce whole clauses: "As I walked home, I saw an accident." Sometimes we truncate the stuff after a subordinating "as": "John makes as much money as Sarah." But that really means the same thing: "John makes as much as Sarah (makes)," and the "as" really introduces an implied clause.

This shortcut can sometimes cause trouble. For example, if you say, "I like Perry as much as Sean," it's unclear where a verb was dropped. Did you mean "I like Perry as much as Sean likes Perry" or "I like Perry as much as I like Sean"? There's no way of knowing which one was intended. So be careful when you use a construction like this.

Unlike "as," "of" is a preposition. And unlike conjunctions that introduce whole clauses, a preposition takes an object, which is usually a noun or pronoun. A man of the world. A bunch of bananas. The wonder of you.

In "twice the meat of a Big Mac," the preposition "of" has a proper object, the noun phrase "a Big Mac." But that's not the only reason "of" would have been a better choice for the commercial. If you look up "of" in the dictionary, you'll find that one of its definitions is "possessing, having: 'a person of honor.'" "As" doesn't mean the same thing.

What's more, the "of" construction is idiomatic. Type just about any phrase with "twice the" into a search engine, and you'll see a lot more hits with "of" than with "as." For example, "twice the savings of" gets 1,960 hits in a Google search, while "twice the savings as" gets only 148 hits. And because idioms derive from common usage, that's a valid argument for "of."

Of course, you could argue that the copywriters intended something like: "Our burger has twice the meat as a Big Mac has." But that would be a weird choice. And it's far more likely that the company's pitchmen were merely doing what they do best: rubbing me the wrong way.

So today, I think I'll have a Big Mac.

JUNE CASAGRANDE is author of "It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences." She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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