Q: A recent headline in the Washington Post says the Cassidy-Graham health bill “is as bad or worse than all the others.” Politics aside, what do you think of the grammar?
A: Ouch! There’s a missing link in that headline about the legislation proposed by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
The headline writer intended to link “as bad as” and “worse than” in one construction. But in linking them together, the second “as” got lost.
“As” could be put back—making the bill “as bad as or worse than all the others”—but that’s a bit clunky, especially in a headline.
We’d prefer a version with “worse” at the end, as in these two examples: (1) “as bad as all the others, or worse” and (2) “as bad as all the others, if not worse.”
In her grammar and usage book Woe Is I, Pat discusses this faulty construction as well as two similar ones with missing links:
“As bad or worse than. Stay away from this kind of sentence: Opie’s math is as bad or worse than his English. Do you see what’s wrong with it? There are two kinds of comparisons going on, as bad as and worse than. When you telescope them into as bad or worse than, you lose an as. Putting it back in (Opie’s math is as bad as or worse than his English) is correct but cumbersome. A better idea is to put the rear end of the comparison (or worse) at the end of the sentence: Opie’s math is as bad as his English, or worse. (Another way to end the sentence is if not worse.)
“As good or better than. This is a variation on the previous theme. It’s better to split up the comparison: Harry’s broom is as good as Malfoy’s, or better. (Another way to end it is if not better.)
“As much or more than. Here’s another variation on as bad or worse than. Don’t use this phrase all at once; split it up: Otis loves bourbon as much as rye, or more. (Another ending is if not more.)”