LawProse Lesson #263: The “such that” lesson.

A few years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote to complain about the use of such that in place of so that: “Annihilate it!” he told me. “It’s pervasive among lawyers today.” It is an odd usage that I recall having first encountered in high-school geometry {Let a distance CB be taken on the conjugate axis, such that the square of CB will bear to the square of CA, the same ratio . . .}. The extended use, perhaps deriving from this geometric or logical use, has come into vogue only as recently as the mid-20th century. Such collocations as situated such that (1940), configured such that (1963), and drafted such that (1964) had no currency before the dates noted. Twentieth-century usage commentators such as H.W. Fowler didn’t really address this such that. They worried instead about a type of such . . . that that displaced such . . . as. Hence Fowler (1926) rewrote this sentence: “They will never learn the truth from this system of military inquiries because they will only see the results if those are such that [read such as] the Government would like them to see.” Yet this is a different usage, with a be-verb preceding such. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) entry, not updated since it was drafted in 1915, gives a clue to the modern use, rather mysteriously calling it an “attributive use after its noun.” The OED examples range from 1771 to 1895, including the geometric quotation above. Webster’s Third (1961) labels this such adverbial and defines it as ” ‘in such a way that’ {the light is refracted such that the point of light appears as a streak}.” The fact that the usage is adverbial seems to have been the source of Justice Scalia’s bother. He wanted such to remain either a demonstrative adjective or a demonstrative pronoun. But unabridged dictionaries’ entries on the word are long and complex; they must have taken lexicographers months to write. Robert W. Burchfield, late editor of the OED, wrote of such that (an accidental collocation, mind you) “this simple-looking word has had many branches and intricacies of meaning and construction from Anglo-Saxon times onward.” Other adverbial uses are idiomatic and surely unobjectionable: “I have never seen such beautiful mountains.” (That’s only a slight extension of the demonstrative adjective, if you take beautiful mountains to be a noun phrase. But most grammarians would classify that such as adverbial.) Or consider the such that means “especially, very”: “I haven’t been in such high spirits lately.” That may be a tad informal, but it’s unobjectionable. In my own recent Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation (2016), I list such that along with so that as an “adverb of consequence” (p. 131)—without disapproval. My conclusion seems to have aligned with that of the Merriam-Webster usage guide: “You need not worry about adverbial such at all.” Linguistic conservatives, of course, tend to disapprove of newly extended senses of words and phrases—especially when they rocket into voguishness. My advice is a little more tempered than that of Merriam-Webster: don’t become addicted to this expression. And consider whether so that might serve well in its place.

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