Travelling in Angel Gabriel (a ship) was grim, even for a boy from the slums of St. Petersburg. There was only one class, steerage, and the passengers were treated as so much more cargo.

I understand the meaning of this passage. It means that people are treated like cargo.

More in this expression is a determiner, and means a greater or additional amount or degree.. so much is also determiner.

So by so much more cargo, it means a lot of cargo.

What difference does it make if people are treated like one cargo or more than one cargo?

  • In this context, so much means a certain amount, not a lot. The idea is that the people are treated/seen as = to their volume or weight in cargo. Your question is unclear to me: What do you mean when you ask what difference it makes? Please rephrase it. – Jim Reynolds Jan 13 '15 at 13:00
  • I understand your question now: What difference does it make if people are treated as a lot of cargo or a little bit of cargo? – Jim Reynolds Jan 13 '15 at 13:11
  • The original quote ("treated as so much more cargo") makes no clear sense to me. To be treated "as so much {something}" means to be treated as if one were {something}, i.e. dismissively, with disrespect. The word "more" disrupts the idiom. I'd say it should have been either "as more cargo" or "as so much cargo", but not both. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 13 '15 at 19:27
  • google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 13 '15 at 19:30

To be treated as "so much [X]" is an idiom, meaning they were treated as merely [X], or no better than [X]. In this case, the passengers in "steerage" class are being treated as just cargo, not as people.

The addition of "more" to the idiom, as in this case, is unique in my experience. It seems plain (to me, at least; others might disagree) that it means the passengers were just some more cargo, no different than the rest of the ship's cargo.

EDIT: In order to find examples, I did a Google search for "as so much dead", quotes included. I chose this search because I felt like I remembered the phrase "so much dead weight" as a particular example of the idiom. (Adding "as" to the front was necessary to filter out unrelated results.) Here are some notable results, with my paraphrasing:

...I am content to reckon my outlay on the book as so much dead loss...

"What I spent on the book is nothing but a loss (i.e. lost money)."

In the United States, the body is treated as so much dead matter...

"A dead body is treated merely like dead matter (not like a person, as in other cultures)."

...but when ascending from the lower to the higher, it acts only as so much dead weight.

"The component being described doesn't do anything but act as weight in this situation."

Using "like" instead of "as" gave me nothing but repetitions of a single song's lyrics. On the bright side, those lyrics are an example of the idiom!

Ain't it funny how/Life can drag behind us/Just like so much dead weight.

Using "just" instead (i.e. searching for "just so much dead") gave me even more examples. But please don't think that "dead" is a necessary part of the idiom! "Dead weight" is just a particularly likely thing to call something when you're saying it's no better than, well, extra weight.

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  • I agree that more means "additional". The passengers were treated like they were cargo (in addition to the other cargo on board or coming on board). – Jim Reynolds Jan 13 '15 at 13:44
  • But that idiom is nowhere in the internet? :O Or it might be possible that it's more used in spoken form. I can't say. You better can clarify. – Man_From_India Jan 13 '15 at 14:13
  • I gave a link to the relevant definition of so much in the first line of my answer. But many dictionaries don't contain that definition, certainly. The dictionaries have a hard time keeping up with us (and us with them). – Jim Reynolds Jan 13 '15 at 15:48
  • @Man_From_India: It's there, but it's hard to filter out the idiom from other usages. Searching for "as so much" didn't help me find examples; "like so much" came up with a few, but also a lot of completely irrelevant results. But one result was this from the Collins Dictionary: 13. (b) a lot (of): it's just so much nonsense – Tim Pederick Jan 13 '15 at 16:38
  • Aside: "dead" weight, in an engineering sense, is weight that does not move on its own. Furniture is dead weight. Wind is live weight. In a mortuary, freezers and corpses are dead weight; morticians and zombies are live weight. – Adam Jan 13 '15 at 17:48

The "more" here doesn't mean that the people were treated as more cargo rather than as less cargo, i.e. that there were a lot of people or that they were treated as a lot of cargo. Rather, it means more than the real, inanimate cargo. There was some actual cargo on the ship, and the people were treated as if they were more cargo. Like you might say, "I had two cookies and then someone gave me two more cookies, so now I have more cookies than I had before." There was some amount of cargo on the ship, then the people were considered as cargo, so now there was more cargo.

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  • Yes this is also possible. – Man_From_India Jan 13 '15 at 14:58
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    This answer is correct. One would not say "The ship was entirely empty except for the passengers who were packed in like so much more cargo." The construction (with _more) requires that there be some other cargo. "The ship took on bananas at the previous port and the passengers were packed in like so much more cargo." – Adam Jan 13 '15 at 16:07

Many people have explained the "as so much" part. If the quote read

and the passengers were treated as so much cargo

(without "more") then I would completely agree with Tim. I feel like the addition of "more" adds a slight twist. It might imply that the passengers were additional cargo on top of the usual load, and therefore were more work for the sailors to transport.

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  • Yes, like "excess baggage". Extra, unwanted, unnecessary effort. So the "more" is effective as an intensifier. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 13 '15 at 23:27

In this context, so much means an equal amount, not a lot; as in sense 2, here:

1. So great in quantity, degree, or extent: There's been so much rain the crops are rotting in the fields.
2. Equivalent or equal in quantity, degree, or extent: The report sounded like so much baloney.

The idea is that the people are treated/seen as = to their volume and/or weight in cargo.

This is a figurative idea, used to express that the people are exactly like cargo. Literally: They were treated so exactly like cargo, that if the people weighed 800kg, they were treated like 800kg of cargo (or, if there were 17 people, they were treated just like 17 pieces of cargo).

So the only difference is between saying "treated like cargo" and "treated like so much cargo" is the use of an expression which stresses the strength of a comparison.

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    The definition you quote seems like it needs another word in sense 2: "quality". In both the question and in the example to sense 2, one thing is being described as "so much" of something else in quality, not in quantity. – Tim Pederick Jan 13 '15 at 13:38
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    I agree that the definition is not complete, but I think what is missing is something like "amount" and/or "weight". I think it specifically does mean "amount", and not quality. To be treated like X amount of Y. We can leave out "so much" and still have: To be treated like Y (e.g., I was treated like dirt."). The quality is already stated in the simile. The purpose of "so much" is to specify quantity (figuratively) by some measure or other. – Jim Reynolds Jan 13 '15 at 13:43
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    @TimPederick To describe something as a 'quantity' of X to say that it is entirely commensurable with X and thus implicitly to deny that it differs in 'quality' from X. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 13 '15 at 14:41
  • Dexterously phrased, StoneyB. Like so much, um, awesomeness. – Jim Reynolds Jan 13 '15 at 15:12
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    @StoneyB: Yes, but not vice versa. If the report was "so much baloney", you wouldn't expect someone to ask, "How much baloney, exactly?" It is "baloney" in quality but the quantity is indeterminate. – Tim Pederick Jan 13 '15 at 16:31

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