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As a musical experience, Eddie Howlloway Live at the Silver Lounge was a jolt. Two songs, originals, were vehicles for Eddie to describe, simply and sincerely, his enormous lovemaking abilities. These didn't interest me except as examples of fine lyrics and vocal delivery. Three other originals, however, provoked me in other ways. These not only referred to me by name, but described my lifestyle ("dull as a mole in his dark hole"), career ("he strikes a pose, this writer of indifferent prose"), and way with women ("slick and insincere, don't let him call you dear") in outrageous terms. Here then was another artist who, like Kelly, was able and willing to insert personal notes about me and girlfriend into his music, to make a point. But while Kelly's personal references were true, as I myself had verified, Eddie's were false as could be. Both artists, however, were true song stylists who succeeded in making genuine music. I couldn't overlook that, for all my personal involvement in their sounds.

The dangerous singers By Michael Fowler ( it's from one of my old magazines on English-learning, but sorry I couldn't find it on the Internet.)

Why false as could be, not as false as they could be? I've never come across such structure before. Is it an ellipsis?

Please help clarify it.

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I've changed my downvote to an upvote :-) –  snailboat Jun 17 at 4:03

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

False as could be does indeed omit the initial as in an as ... as construction. That is very common in informal registers, and may be acceptable in formal registers. As could be is not an ellipsis of as X could be but an idiomatic expression employing be in the intransitive noncopular sense of “exist, occur”. It thus means approximately “as possible”. You may also encounter as can be and, with a more tentative or dubious sense, as may be or as might be.

She petted me and seemed to try hard to make everything as pleasant as could be. —Henry Adams, Letters
Look here, folks, don’t think I’m rough / ‘Cause I’m a good woman and I knows my stuff / That’s why I’m sinful as can be. –Perry Bradford, “Sinful Blues”
The Commission shall keep itself informed as fully as may be of the circumstances ... —State of Texas Constitution
“That's as may be,” said Kantwise. “I say nothing on that subject at the present moment, either one way or the other.” —Trollope, Orley Farm
My father’s dramatic instinct was as strong as might be. And his power of mimicry was positively fantastic. —May Morris, Introductions to the Collected Works of William Morris

You will also encounter an intensive version: as ADJ as ADJ can/could/may/might be, where be has the same noncopular sense:

The feeling there was as strong as strong could be that Parnell's leadership is, for the time at least, intolerable. —John Morley to Gladstone.

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I couldn't find any solid sources, but "as _ as can be" is an idiom, which basically means "as _ as possible". Here's thesaurus.com with "easy as can be". "as could be" is just a variation on that. If you Google it, there's lots of usage.

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