I’m often annoyed by like being misused in different ways. (In place of as, for example: ‘Like I expected, he was late.’) But I’m now surprised by baffling uses of similar to. The Sun provided three examples in discussing the little internet craze for listening to an audio clip that either says ‘Laurel’ or ‘Yanny’. (If this has passed you by, don’t trouble.)
‘The Yanny v Laurel debate,’ said the Sun, ‘has taken the internet by storm — similar to The Dress in 2015.’
There I’d probably say like, or more formally as did. In a different edition, the Sun hazarded: ‘Similar to the dress colour debate way back in 2014, there is a scientific reason.’ That should be as with. In another attempt, the Sun said: ‘Similar to the optical illusion of The Dress back in 2015, this appears to be the sound illusion equivalent.’
That probably means: ‘This appears to be the sound illusion equivalent of the optical illusion of The Dress back in 2015.’
Another day, discussing Chelsea, the Sun remarked that they ‘had been looking at renting Wembley similar to how Tottenham have been doing’. That knot could be unpicked by saying ‘as Tottenham have been doing’ or by making it simply ‘like Tottenham’.
The deployment of these little words that frame syntax has changed greatly over the centuries. As is a worn-down version of also, but we needn’t rummage through the whole dustheap of its history.
It’s not just the Sun (usually a well-conducted paper grammatically). The Guardian had: ‘A lawn is like a barrier, similar to a rug in a living room: people tend to edge round it rather than walk on it.’ I can see why the writer didn’t want to repeat like, but such as a rug would have done.
The Telegraph, also in its sports pages, wrote of ‘a league position similar to this season — seventh or eighth’. Although in past centuries it was common to say ‘my ears are like a rabbit’ instead of ‘like a rabbit’s’, here I’d say ‘similar to this season’s’, with an elliptical genitive, or more plainly ‘like this season’s’. Just because like is misused, there’s no need to develop a phobia to it.