be that as it will

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Dec 19 19:17:16 UTC 2007

among the items in the 1915 Funk & Wagnalls booklet _Faulty Diction_
is this one, which was new to me:

  (p. 18) *be that as it will.*  Erroneously substituted for _be that
as it may_.

consonant with this judgment is the fact  that both the Cambridge
International Dictionary of Idioms (1998) and the Cambridge Dictionary
of American Idioms (2003) have "be that as it may" but not "be that as
it will" (or another variant, "be this as it may").

meanwhile, hoi polloi use all four variants with very similar

be that as it may: 387,000   be that as it will: 267,000
be this as it may: 160,000   be this as it will: 160,000

these numbers are not gigantic, which is not surprising, since "be
that as it may" is formal in style, and google web searches turn up a
lot of (very) informal writing.  so i suppose it could be claimed that
what the web searches show is that ordinary people have an imperfect
command of formal idioms.

on the other hand, plenty of idioms have variant forms -- so why not
this one?  what's the source of the judgment that there is only one
correct variant?  this is a serious question for the F&W booklet,
since it claims to be based on "scientific principles", in particular
the principle that

  Usage to be good should be *reputable*, that is,. it should have the
sanction of good authors or (to be the best usage) of the best
authors.  (p. 4)

now i very much doubt that in this case (and in many others) the
compilers of the booklet actually consulted the practice of good
authors.  the judgment looks to me like an expression of personal taste.

at the moment, i have no idea what the practice of good authors was
then or is now, and this is the sort of search that i'm not prepared
to do in the time available to me.  anyone have any idea about the


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