We work very fast these days with diminished resources, and sometimes my word nerd proclivities have to wait until I am off deadline. Lucky for me, I have shelves filled with dictionaries and usage books at home. I can indulge my need to know more about English when I am not on deadline.
I was editing a book review Monday that had this sentence in it.
In the end, however, one cannot escape the feeling that much of this is irrelevant – at least in so far as the historical importance of Forrest is concerned.
My first impulse was to change "in so far as" to "insofar as," but, as any copy editor will tell you, first impulses must be questioned and checked. So I turned to the dictionary (the hardcover one that sits, often open, on my work desk at all times) and found that my impulse was right: Webster's New World College Dictionary renders the word as "insofar." I changed it in the review and moved on.
Later, though, I wondered about "insofar." Is it always rendered as one word? Do all authorities agree on that? I turned to the books and a CD-ROM that sit on my shelves at home.
The Associated Press Stylebook and the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage have entries for "insofar as" without any explanation. Other American English dictionaries -- Random House and Merriam-Webster -- list "insofar." But the Oxford English Dictionary does not.
I turned to "Fowler's Modern English Usage." R.W. Burchfield writes the term as "in so far as," citing the OED, but notes that many sources make it "insofar as." He calls the term a "complex subordinator." In the sentence that set me off on this research, the term introduces a subordinate clause "the historical important of Forrest is concerned." It means "to the extent that."
Of course, Fowler's and "Garner's Modern American Usage" note that the term is wordy and perhaps shouldn't be used at all. Bryan Garner suggests that "as far as" can be substituted in some cases, and that would work in the sentence I was editing. I like "insofar," though, and will leave it as it is. We'll see how it comes out when the Read pages for Sunday's Arts & Living section are published. Another editor might have a different idea.