Friday, January 30, 2015

Word Mix-Ups: "Looked Like" vs. "Appeared As"

“Appeared as” is not a synonym for “looked like.”

And there you have it. Have a nice day, folks!

I suppose I could elaborate a bit.

We all know how to use looked like—we do it every day. Here’s some examples:

     He looked like a construction worker.

     That cloud looks like a porcupine.

     My girlfriend’s uncle looked like an angry honey badger.

Pretty simple, right? Looked like is used to indicate that two objects have similar appearances. I’ve seen quite a few people try to use appeared as in the same way, but it just doesn’t work:

     He appeared as a construction worker.

In this sort of usage, appeared as seems to indicate that the person we’re discussing has the ability to alter their appearance at will and has chosen this form to appear to our characters. Like this:

     The angel appeared as a construction worker.

     God appeared to Moses as a burning bush.

The genie appeared as a bee. Because he literally changed his form and appeared out of nowhere.

Many an author has created unintentional hilarity through the misuse of appeared as. This can be particularly confusing if you’re writing speculative fiction of some sort—if your story is already full of magic or might-as-well-be-magic levels of technology, then your audience won’t always know just what you meant. For all they know, the dimension-hopping monster or planet-eating alien can actually appear as whatever they want.

    My girlfriend’s uncle appeared as an angry honey badger. He is a wizard, you see.

Now, there is a situation where looked like and appeared as can be interchanged a bit more freely. In all of the examples above, looked like was used to create similes—to imply visual similarity. But it can also be used to describe the literal nature of a person or object—to describe what something is. For example:

     The room was in shambles, furniture in pieces, window shattered, blood on the floor; it looked like a nasty fight happened there.

     The room was in shambles, furniture in pieces, window shattered, blood on the floor; it appeared as though a nasty fight happened there. (Appeared that would work even better, but I wanted to keep the as in the phrase.)

The distinction between visual simile and literal description of nature is important in these situations. Looked like can be used in either scenario, but appeared as cannot.

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