on reversed "substitute" (intransitive version)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Mar 4 14:28:46 UTC 2013

The objection (or, to put it more neutrally, the non-occurring example) for us old-timers arises from the preposition governed by "substitute".  You can replace butter with olive oil, or equivalently (as in your Mac dictionary examples) substitute olive for butter, but you can't substitute butter with olive oil or vice versa.  In fact I still have trouble figuring out what's being moved in and what's being deleted in such cases, but as Wiktionary says this use is increasing despite the carping (or the non-comprehension) from the old-timers.

We've certainly discussed it to death here, and there are no doubt Language Log or other blogs on the topic, as Ben will remind us.

Curiously it doesn't seem to be recognized in AHD5.  I can't remember it coming up in the Usage Panel questionnaire either.  Steve K?


On Mar 4, 2013, at 7:53 AM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:

> I don't understand the objection, but FWIW, that use seems to match my Mac dictionary:
> [ with obj. ]
> use or add in place of: dried rosemary can be substituted for the fresh herb.
> [ no obj. ] act or serve as a substitute: I found someone to substitute for me.
> • replace (someone or something) with another: customs officers substituted the drugs with another substance / this was substituted by a new clause.
> • replace (a sports player) with a substitute during a contest: he was substituted for Nichols in the fifth inning.
> Wiktionary (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/substitute) also seems to accept this use.
> Of "substitute, the OED says:  To fill the place of (a person or thing) with a replacement; = replace v. 2b. Use in this sense has been sometimes criticized (as with sense 3a), but is now generally regarded as part of normal standard English.
> Benjamin Barrett
> Seattle, WA
> On Mar 4, 2013, at 4:33 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>> I couldn't help noticing and cringing when a twentysomething fitness guru
>> on CNN yesterday said the "you can substitute butter with olive oil" and
>> some other X with another Y.
>> Clearly =3D "replace."
>> Another ex. of the same phrase from 2011:
>> http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/health/2011/12/11/avoiding-holiday-blues-i=
>> t-can-affect-your-heart/#ixzz2MZdCT6p2
>> "Substitute butter with olive oil: A study from the American Journal of
>> Clinical Nutrition shows that subjects limited lipid and insulin responses
>> when eating a meal high in mono-saturated fats (olive oil) instead of a
>> meal high in saturated fat (butter)."
>> The context suggests that the journalist should, by the standards of the
>> superannuated, know better.
>> JL
>> On Sun, Aug 28, 2011 at 4:51 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>wrot=
>> e:
>>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>> -----------------------
>>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>> Subject:      Re: on reversed "substitute" (intransitive version)
>>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------=
>> ------
>>> On Aug 28, 2011, at 4:08 PM, Dan Goncharoff wrote:
>>>> Clear but not transparent? A distinction I cannot as yet fathom.
>>>> DanG
>>> ?
>>> I wasn't trying to distinguish "clear" and "transparent", but rather what
>>> was/would have been transparent (or clear) to me on hearing/reading it an=
>> d
>>> what must have clearly been intended by the speaker/writer, given the
>>> context.  What was not transparent to me is that "When you substitute him=
>> "
>>> could really mean "When you take him out and put in someone else" (as
>>> opposed to "When you put him in and take out someone else").  What is cle=
>> ar
>>> is that that's what the writer/speaker intended to convey, given the
>>> overall context.
>>> This is a fact about the difference between the two dialects.  Before I
>>> became familiar with the British use of "knock up", if I had come across =
>> a
>>> female character in a movie or book saying to her male counterpart "Pleas=
>> e
>>> knock me up in the morning" it would not have been transparent to me that
>>> she meant 'please awaken me in the morning by knocking', yet clearly,
>>> that's what she would have meant (especially if she had uttered it with a
>>> British accent).  Or perhaps a more natural example:  the first time I ca=
>> me
>>> across someone saying something like "If she was wearing her seatbelt she
>>> may have survived the accident", I could only interpret it as suggesting
>>> that the speaker was agnostic as to the subject's survival; to express th=
>> e
>>> counterfactual, presupposing that she didn't survive, I would have expect=
>> ed
>>> "=85she might have survived the accident".  But now I recognize that for =
>> the
>>> "new" dialect (don't know how new it actually is), "may" can be used to
>>> express this counterfactual !
>>> or subjunctive meaning as well.
>>> Hope that's clearer and/or more transparent.
>>> LH
>>>> On Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at 6:38 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
>>> wrote:
>>>>> Reminds me; the original from Cris Carter was actually "When you
>>> substitute him", not "if".  Same difference as they say (but I usually
>>> don't).  For me, these are not at all transparent; I only process them as
>>> "If/When you substitute him (for someone else)", not "If/When you
>>> substitute (someone else for) him", although clearly it's the latter that
>>> was intended.
>>>>> LH
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