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in that regard

Some people think that there is a difference in meaning between “in that regard” and “in that respect”, some believe that a lot of phrases using “regard” or “regards” are in fact making inappropriate use of the word, and of course some think there is nothing wrong with such usage.

Does anyone else think that the phrase “In that regard” is overused and misused?

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I think there are two separate points here. Firstly, there’s the use of 'respect' instead of 'regard' in the expression “in this/that respect/regard”. In his (unintentionally) rather amusing 1908 book, ‘Write it Right’, a certain Anthony Bierce objected to "in that respect" and includes it in his ‘Black List’ -

‘Respect for Way, or Matter. "They were alike in that respect." The misuse comes of abbreviating: the sentence properly written might be, They were alike in respect of that—i.e., with regard to that. The word in the bad sense has even been pluralized: "In many respects it is admirable." ‘

But Pierce was wrong on so many things (such as regarding “in many respects” as a misuse) that he is hardly worth paying much attention to. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage regards this use as “perfectly standard”, and Oxford Online has the example sentences:

“the government’s record in this respect is a mixed one”
“there was little incentive for them to be active in this regard”

I think there is more controversy over your second point, the use of expressions such as:

as regards - as regards content, the programme will cover important current issues
in / with regard to - he made enquiries with regard to Beth

The first problem, and the one that’s most discussed on the Internet, I think, is confusion between ‘regard’ and ‘regards’. At ‘Separated By A Common Language’ the normally placid Lynne Guist (gettit?) writes “For the past couple of years my pet peeve has been with regards to and in regards to -- I rarely read a student essay, dissertation, or thesis without at least one of these scratching my eyeballs more than once”

She ponders as to whether this is more of a British or more of an American custom. and her article is well-worth reading (in this regard / respect)

At Common Errors, Prof. Bryans says that “As regards your downsizing plan . . .” is “acceptable, if stiff.” He also allows “In regard to” and “with regard to” as being correct, but says that “in regards to” is nonstandard.

But he seems to prefer “in respect to” or “with respect to,” or—simplest of all—just plain “regarding.”

The second point is whether these expressions are overused. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary refers to them all as formal. Fowler saw nothing “strikingly bad” about their use in individual examples, but found that they “cumulatively spoil a writer’s style“. His later editor Burchfield says “they are all in standard use, but should be used sparingly and with discretion”. MWDEU suggests that many commentators see it as jargonistic, preferring such alternatives as "about, on, concerning". But then MWDEU goes on to say -

"... in many cases you will no doubt find them preferable yourself. But remember that the matter of wordiness is entirely secondary to the matter of how your sentence sounds.When longer phrases suit the rhythm of a sentence better than short ones, the longer ones are a better choice".

Like any formal and formulaic language, it is hard to avoid occasionally using phrases like this, especially in business correspondence, but we should probably remember that they are just that - formal and formulaic, and while bearing in mind what MWDEU say, I’d probably go along with Bryans and use ‘regarding’ where possible, when 'about' would be too informal.

It's probably like a lot of things: in moderation is fine. The occasional 'There were like thirty people there' is fine, but when every sentence includes like, it gets a bit noticeable.

Apropos, what about the use of the expression re: in spoken English? “Re what we were talking about earlier, have you had any thoughts?” I quite like that.

Warsaw Will October 13, 2013, 11:00am

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Wow! I certainly got your attention.


Hairy Scot October 13, 2013, 9:29pm

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An afterthought:- Instead of "Re ......"/"Regarding....." how about "Anent ............."

As to "In that respect/regard" I must admit to favouring the latter but cannot formulate any logical argument as to why.

Hairy Scot October 13, 2013, 9:32pm

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@HS - "Wow! I certainly got your attention." - because it was an interesting question and you pointed out something that was new to me - the "in that respect / regard" question. I'd known about the problem with "with regard(s) to", and had a vague idea some people preferred to avoid expressions with "regard", but that was all. I'd also just been reading about Bierce, so was interested to find out he was the source of much of the opprobrium for "in that respect". Google Books has the first few pages of an annotated version of his book, which shows just how often he got it wrong. For example:

afraid - do not say 'I am afraid it will rain', say 'I fear it will rain'

I know your fondness for "anent" but I imagine you might have some problems with comprehension outwith Scotland. In conversation "about" will usually do.

Warsaw Will October 14, 2013, 3:01am

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Anent is OE, but I suppose its use may have continued longer in Scotland than in other parts of the (soon to be defunct?) UK.

Hairy Scot October 14, 2013, 7:15am

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@HS - agreed, but it's marked in Oxford Dictionaries Online as "chiefly archaic or Scottish" - I thought you'd prefer to be thought Scottish rather than archaic.:)

Warsaw Will October 14, 2013, 8:09am

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As to "In that respect/regard" I must admit to favouring the former but cannot formulate any logical argument as to why.

Hairy Scot October 15, 2013, 11:27am

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@HS - I think I probably agree with you, and the reason's not too hard to find: it's far more common, especially in British English, so no doubt sounds more familiar:

British National Corpus - that respect: 235, that regard 66
The Guardian - in that respect 12, in that regard 4
The Times - in that respect 64, in that regard 30
The Independent - in that respect 543, in that regard 227
The BBC - too many to check, but the opening figures (not to be trusted) suggest 10:1
But The Telegraph bucks the trend - in that respect 565, in that regard 579

The preference for respect seems to be greater in British English than in American English, and although the use of respect appears to be declining, that of regard is increasing, especially in AmE:

Warsaw Will October 16, 2013, 8:53am

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Anent misuse of regards; hearing things like:-
"I must say that regards/as regards the common use of outwith instead of outside in Scotland I have no comment."
really does make me cringe.

Hairy Scot October 16, 2013, 9:10am

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@HS - it may well make you cringe, but the idiom 'as regards' in your example is certainly not a misuse, although the bare 'regards' is. Rather, 'as regards' is seen as being quite formal:

'as regards content, the programme will cover important current issues' - Oxford Concise
'I have little information as regards her fitness for the post.' - Oxford Advanced Learner's
'As regards the potential energy crisis, why aren't we putting money into serious alternative sources of energy?' - Macmillan
'As regards a cure for the disease, very few advances have been made.' - Longman

And there are plenty of examples at, for example, at the Times Literary Supplement (the most highbrow periodical I could think of):

Here is Bryan Garner, from 'Garner's Modern American Usage' which has almost cult status in the States, on 'as regards'. 'a much-maligned phrase, is sometimes called a solecism. Actually it's a traditional literary idiom (although now a little old-fashioned)'.

He seems to have some sympathy for your position, however - ' Though "as regards" is no more objectionable that "with regard to", the whole lot of such phrases is suspect' (his verb form) and appears to think they're rather 'lame'.

Fowler didn't seem to like it very much either, and Burchfield, editor of the Third Edition says 'they are all in standard use, but should be used sparingly and with discretion'.

A lot of the time it could certainly be replaced by 'regarding 'or 'as for'. But this is a style issue and nothing to with correctness.

Warsaw Will October 17, 2013, 12:00pm

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Being a stylish chap I prefer "regarding" or "as for". ;-)

Hairy Scot October 17, 2013, 12:12pm

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Interesting. Thanks.
I found this article while googling "in that respect", prompted by the fact that I often (and increasingly) come across it being used to mean, roughly, "therefore", as in "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. In that respect, Socrates is mortal" (fictional example, since I mayn't quote real cases).
So much so that I started wondering if this was what it meant all along, rather than, as I had assumed, roughly "in this way/dimension/etc. (but quite possibly not in others)".
Do you people ever come across the "therefore" usage in your line of work? Any thoughts about it?

Polycarp March 21, 2016, 8:56am

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Yes     No