Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is “in the same token” instead of “by the same token” acceptable usage?

A friend of mine sent me this question by e-mail a few days ago: “Which is correct: ‘Events Management’ or ‘Events Director’ with an ‘s’ or without?"

A very interesting question, so after I e-mailed my answer to my friend, I shared it with members of Jose Carillo’s English Forum by posting it on its English “Use and Misuse” section.

This was my answer:

“Events management with the ‘s’ affixed to ‘event’ is the practice or discipline of managing events, while ‘event management’ without the ‘s’ in ‘events’ simply means the act of managing one particular event.

“In the same token, an ‘events director’ is one whose occupation is directing or coordinating events, while ‘event director’ is one who is directing or coordinating one particular event.”

My answer quickly drew a rejoinder from an Australian member of the Forum, Max Sims, who curtly pointed out that the expression “in the same token” should be “by the same token” instead—with the preposition “by” and not the preposition “in.”

I must admit that I was taken by surprise by this, so I looked into the matter seriously to see if I had really committed a monumental English grammar gaffe.

Here’s what I posted in Jose Carillo’s English Forum last night about this matter:

No, I really meant to write “in the same token” instead of “by the same token.” I have always used “in the same token” with the “in” instead of “by” since my high school years many decades ago, confident that it was correct usage. Now that my attention has been called to it, however, I checked with Google and found this: 1,510,000 entries for “by the same token” against 55,200 entries for “in the same token,” meaning that “by the same token” is the preferred usage by a ratio of 27.35: 1.

So the question that came to mind was this: Is “in the same token” wrong usage?

My digital Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary lists “by the same token” as an expression that means “for the same reason,” and the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs similarly lists it, defining it as a “cliché—a phrase indicating that the speaker is introducing parallel or closely contrasting information.” I was unable to find any authoritative reference that lists “in the same token.”

Given these findings, I was prepared to acknowledge that perhaps I was guilty of propagating wrong English for having used “in the same token” all this time. But looking into the matter more deeply, I found that I was in rather good company using “in the same token.”

For instance, an article in a Georgetown University website, “From Spy Novels to CIA Papers,” uses it in this passage: “It sounds a bit rapacious, but in the same token, we’re doing them a service,” Buchtel says. “People don’t always know how to handle these pieces of history, and we’re there to offer advice and a home for them.”

In an article “Planning Research on Student Services: Variety in Research” bylined by Willard C. Hom in the iJournal, I found this usage: “Hopefully, a data validation study would precede the use of secondary data, but we realize the tentativeness of that expectation, given the pressures that often act to expedite analyses. In the same token, we hope researchers include a data validation step within a study that uses primary data.

In a 1997 Philippine Supreme Court decision, I found this passage using “in the same token”:

“4. The Court of Appeals erred when it granted mandamus, directing and in effect controlling Commissioner Kintanar and deputy Commissioners Dumlao and Perez, to meet en banc to consider and act on a ‘draft Order’ only which the Court itself recognized no longer had the approval of two (2) Commissioners while in the same token the Court of Appeals had set aside a duly promulgated Order of July 4, 1995 allegedly because it did not carry the approval of 2 commissioners.”

In the April 1, 2009 issue of The Guardian, I found this passage where the same speaker uses “by the same token” and “in the same token” in the same speech:

Earlier part of the statement:
“Attah said: ‘This is the whole experience we want to examine. We do not want to hide behind integrity of a nation to tell the world either that we are tolerant of any wrongdoing since a wrong has been established or can be established. We will have to look at that. But by the same token, there is no denying the need, as you said, to preserve the integrity and dignity of a nation...”

Later part of the statement:
“Nigeria must give itself the same dignity. But that dignity can also be eroded if everybody outside looks at us as criminals. So you have to do things in such a manner that you don't create or put yourself into disrespect. In the same token, you must not do it to show that your country condones or tolerates wrong.”

Finally, in the January 20, 2009 issue of The Christian Science Monitor, I found this very interesting exchange of opinion also involving the use of “by the same token” alongside “in the same token” about the inauguration of US President Barack Obama:

The first passage:
“In retrospect to an old green earth commercial where we see an Indian with a tear in his eye as he peruses the landscape of the earth from high atop vantage point, observes the abuse of Mother Nature by our earth’s inhabitants. By the same token one can also visualize our forefathers with tears in their eyes within our minds’ eye, as we see all that has transpired within our great nation, and how spirit of the Declaration of Independence was slowly demeaned and besmirched.”

And a passage that followed:
“I think it’s unfair to expect a Muslim not to mention Allah. It would stifle who they truly are. In the same token a Christian should not be expected to omit the name of Jesus. It would only be a meaningless exercise. We need to get real as Americans and have a little more tolerance for each other.”

I found in the web hundreds of other instances of the use of “in the same token” by apparently well-informed and well-educated people, so I would like to say that I can take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in using that expression. But is this enough to establish “in the same token” as correct English usage alongside the much widely accepted “by the same token”?

I’m on a crossroads about this usage, so either way, I’d appreciate hearing the opinion of English-language experts and enthusiasts about this.

Sign in as my Blogpost follower
to get alerts on my postings


  1. I have been looking for the origins of the phrase 'by the same token'--not found yet--but it seems, given the recent meanings of token as a thing or possibly an action, (subway token, token of affection) 'by' would seem to make more sense; but if it's an older usage, where the original sense of 'token' as a 'sign' was still strong, 'in' might also make sense: in hoc token vincit, or whatever Constantine dreamed. But then 'under' would also make same sense or more: 'under the same token'....carry on!

  2. P.S. pervasiveness of usage not equal to 'correctness', witness spread of 'hone in on' originally a confusion (pun-in-error, like 'I can't phantom that' sometimes heard here in the Ozarks)now almost a standard usage. Love.

  3. From "Essays"

    "Perhaps such loose usage would be acceptable in informal, face-to-face conversations, but it was very unbecoming to be put in writing by someone who should have more respect for language and its nuances."

    One presumes that the "it" in "but it was" refers to "very unbecoming". This means that "such loose usage" needs its own pronoun. Try "for it" in front of "to be put".

  4. well, very interesting. Also, I see this is a year old. Still, I will just comment that "by the same token" is used by Shakespeare in Troilus and Cressida. So, there you have it.