Over on the Spectrum Blog I found a strange sentence. Many of them actually. But only one that I care to write about.
Adding to a discussion of religious-marketing/evangelism one commenter writes the following:
But Dutch Reform is as about an 'easy sell' as Adventism!
It's pretty clear right away that the sentence means to say that Dutch Reform and Adventism are equally easy to sell. Whether or not the speaker believes they are easy to sell isn't clear. Or relevant.
The closest rewrite I can give this sentence will move only two words: "as" and "an". I'll have to change 'an' to 'a' because of the following word. Thus:
But Dutch Reform is about as easy a sell as Adventism!
But is it possible to parse the original sentence so that it makes sense? If we represent the sentence with the following skeleton, Concept-A is as Quality-X as Concept-B (is Quality-X), we see that the sentence doesn't fill the Quality-X slot appropriately. To call Concept-A/B "an 'easy sell'" is not the same statement about quality. "An 'easy sell'" is a modified predicate nominative and the qualifier is on "sell." So our construction is looking for a predicate adjective but the adjective is already modifying another word. It would be acceptable to say Concept-A is as easy as Concept-B (is easy). So "as" has to be followed by an adjective. The adjective could be modified by an adverb and still sound fine: Concept-A is as incredibly easy as Concept-B (is incredibly easy)
Let's rethink what the writer sees as his constituent phrases. Let's play with his punctuation and move the first quotation marks:
But Dutch Reform is as about 'an easy sell' as Adventism!
Now we paraphrase "about" and put another word in there. We could also go with "near" "almost" or "close to" "around" or several other proximators. We see the switch working in other sentences:
Are you nearly/about done?
That about/almost does it.
About/close to 10 people showed up
It took us about/around 3 hours
So now we have these possibilities.
1. But Dutch Reform is as nearly 'an easy sell' as Adventism!
2. But Dutch Reform is as almost 'an easy sell' as Adventism!
3. But Dutch Reform is as close to an easy sell as Adventism (is)!
4. But Dutch Reform is as around 'an easy sell' as Adventism!
Sentence 4 is the worst. Three sounds best to me. To my ear 1 and 3 sound okay (just okay) while 2 and 4 sound pretty bad. #1 functions as an adverb and #3 uses an adjective alongside a preposition. Three works so well because "as" gets it adjective and "an easy sell" functions clearly as the object of a preposition and doesn't even need quotation marks as a reminder of constituency. The other two sentences use lone prepositions and following "as" they don't fulfill the required adjective/adverb requirement of the comparative. That would require a full phrase "almost an easy sell" or "around an easy sell" to function adjectivally and that's just clumsy no matter how much we try to argue for a possibly grammatical structure.
Quiz: Would fixing the common prescriptions I eschewed in the first 3 sentences of this post make the opening better?
Jaŋari suggests that one reading might view "about" as closer to a phrase like "intent upon" (see the comments). If so I could see a decent reading of the sentence this way:
But Dutch Reform is as [interested in] an "easy sell" as Adventism (is)!
This is so simple a reading that I tracked it down the comment at the source to see if this was a likely intention from the writer Dr Thomas J Zwemer.
Because the two preceding sentences focus on the difficulty of gaining "converts" through evangelism I'll stick with my original reading that he is comparing the easy sell-ability of the two philosophies. Though Jaŋari's reading makes for a better sentence I don't think we can give the good doctor that pass. It's the very awkward sentence I first thought it was.
If he had intended to say that Dutch Reform and Adventism are both interested in or dedicated to the easy sell A clear indication would be a wording like X is as much about an easy sell as Y is. Or not as smooth would be X is as all about an easy sell as Y is.
I'm all about giving suggestions.]