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I want to ask about the meaning of a sentence.

RICHARD: Ah. Speaking of which, I’m going to give that man a call.

ALAN: Richard, you’re getting yourself all worked up.

RICHARD: As long as I’ve been with this company, it has been run by gentlemen. Revising a man’s work without so much as a phone call would’ve been unheard of!

The sentence that I don't understand is "Revising a man's work ... would've been unheard of!". I guess Richard is saying that giving a phone call is not a big deal. But I am not exactly know how to analyze the sentence. First, what does "so much as" mean here? I find two meaning for phrase. Merriam- Webster says it means "even" and Cambridge says it means "but rather". Which is more suitable here? Second, what does Richard mean when he says "would've been unheard of!"?

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What does "so much as" mean here? The key to understanding that is the word without immediately before it. without so much as can only mean without even, and not *without but rather, which sounds really strange and meaningless. – CJ Dennis Feb 18 at 0:36
    
What a well asked question, with both context and reasoning and research! Welcome to ELL :-) – Lucky Feb 18 at 1:45
    
More detailed question. Why did he use "would have been" here? what will the meaning be if "would have been" is replaced by "would be" or "was"? – Chris Kuo Feb 18 at 13:09
up vote 6 down vote accepted

"Without so much as a ___" means that an action was performed without the bare minimum of response. "He took all of my birthday cake without so much as a thank you!" (He probably should have done much more than say thank you, but at least that!)

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/without-so-much-as

for something to be "unheard of" means it's out of the realm of possibility. "Why, for a bride to wear a bathing suit to her wedding? That's unheard of!"

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/unheard-of

All together:

"This company used to be run by nice people. Now, someone is revising this man's work and not even bothering to do the bare minimum of giving him a phone call to tell him! That never would have happened in the past!"

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This usage of "run by gentlemen" is referring to the appropriate behaviour of a "gentleman" rather than just it being run by men. This states that a certain level of good manners can be expected and is key to the meaning of the second part.

The second half is saying that this expected behaviour has not been followed and implies that the people now in charge are not "gentlemen" as they've changed his required tasks without discussing the matter with him.

"without so much as a phone call" means that the minimum he would have expected is to be spoken to on the phone about it, ideally it would have been discussed in person, but they "didn't even bother to phone" him.

"would’ve been unheard of" means this behaviour would not have taken place (the behaviour unbecoming of a gentleman), and had it taken place it would have been discussed (gossiped about) and hence would have been heard of. (This is a gross simplification of the social conversation that decides whether a pattern of behaviour is acceptable to society or not)

In short, his work has been changed and in such a way as to be a breach of good manners.

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+1 particularly for had it taken place it would have been discussed. That's so much more informative than simply saying it would have been unlikely (because taboo or whatever). – FumbleFingers Feb 17 at 15:12
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That seems like an odd parsing of "unheard of". That phrase means that you wouldn't hear about it because it didn't happen. If you had told someone it was happening, they would say "I've never heard of that". I guess that's the same? Maybe the phrasing just seems weird. Also, to address the asker's last question about which meaning of "so much as", it's 'even'. – DCShannon Feb 17 at 19:48
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Agreed: "Unheard of" has nothing to do with gossiping or discussion after the fact. – thumbtackthief Feb 17 at 19:57
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It's a highly simplified explanation and possibly inaccurate in that simplicity. It's to do with socially acceptable behaviour and the group discussions that decide whether or not said behaviour is acceptable to society. – Separatrix Feb 17 at 20:20

"Revising a mans work" - taking a mans completed work and going through it to check for accuracy and make changes as needed.

"without so much as a phone call" - They did not have the consideration to inform him of the fact they were revising his work, which would not have been much trouble to them because it would have been very easy to call him on the phone to do so. In other words "They didnt even care enough to tell me"

"would have been unheard of" - both implies that this was considered a taboo or inappropriate thing to do at one time, and also that it is no longer considered so due to whatever has changed since then.

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