Friday’s verbal infelicity

June 23, 2017 • 8:00 am

I heard this phrase twice yesterday, which reminded me that it’s quite common—and I don’t like it:

“The thing is, is that. . . . “

It’s used for emphasis, as in the sentence, “The thing is, is that I’d already done the job but I still got chewed out.”

Now this is just wrong: the second “is” can be omitted without any ambiguity of meaning. I suppose the repeated word is used for emphasis, but my arrector pilae contract when I hear this.

I suppose it’s time that readers get a chance to share their beefs about language, so put yours below.

304 thoughts on “Friday’s verbal infelicity

  1. One phrase that really grates on me is “The reason why…” The why is totally unnecessary. Tennyson was using “reason” as a verb, not a noun.

        1. Consider: “That[Who] says that?”

          “That” is more and more supplanting “Who,” but so far it seems only as a relative pronoun in declarative statements. (“People that . . . .”) Can’t seem to make it work in questions like the above. Ex.: “To whom shall I give the money,” versus “To that shall I give the money?”

          1. ‘That’ is perfectly correct instead of ‘who’ in defining relative clauses such as ‘People that don’t have money should get a job’. The clause is defining which people should get a job. OTOH, non-defining relative clauses require ‘who’ and not ‘that’. Unemployed people, who are people that dont have a job, should try to find one.

    1. “Donald Trump gave a reason why he wants to build a wall with Canada, but the reason he gave is not the real reason why he wants it. The the reason given is a fear of polar bears, but the real reason is fear of Diana.”

      That looks fine to me. Try scanning it with the whys removed; it isn’t as smooth, and takes more effort to understand.

    1. Unwarranted. Fluency of spoken English varies from place to place and time to time. We are admittedly in a trough at the moment, but things have been better. A working-class Brit in 1950 was probably more articulate than an Oklahoma U.S. Senator today.

        1. What? What? Wax eloquentLY?

          No! No! “Wax” does NOT mean “speak”! “Wax” means “to become” or “to grow”. You wax eloquent.

          So when you speak eloquently, you wax eloquent.

  2. “Off of” annoys. I don’t understand why people think the “of” is needed.

    The following isn’t a grammar issue, but it does relate to writing: the use of a dash (hyphen) when a comma is needed. I can’t stand it when I receive emails that begin with “Barry-“. What happened to “Barry,”? I also see this dash all over the place on Twitter:

    “Wow- that’s amazing!” NO! It should be:

    “Wow, that’s amazing!”

    That is not the end of my rant on this issue, but I think that’s enough for my rant HERE.

        1. Another use I hate is “off of,” as in, “I’m going to jump off of the roof.” I just want them to jump off the roof.

      1. bazza? What dat?

        “Is is” has driven me nuts for the past 10 years or so. What swamp did it suddenly emerge from? ( from what swamp…)

    1. The em-dash and the hyphen are functional opposites. A dash separates. A hyphen joins. A dash is represented by two hyphens (–) when a keyboard does not offer the dash option. A dash is more interruptive than a comma, but in casual writing it is a valid orthographic choice.

      1. I often use a dash where a semi-colon would look too formal – kinda like this.

        While I’m here (and apologies if this is covered further down), “outside” only needs “of” when used as a noun. For example, “The outside of the house needs a coat of paint, so I’ll go outside of it to do it now”.

        Finally, I agree with PCC(E) about the double “is”. I have a good friend who has become so used to doing it all the time, she now uses a triple “is” for emphasis. :-O

    2. Same with the otiose “of” following “all” (except when preceding a non-possessive pronoun): e.g., “All my rowdy friends are here” but “Take all of me.”

    3. “Off of”. Shudder. What’s wrong with “from”?
      “Out of”, as in: “She’s a lawyer out of Los Angeles”. Again, what do people have against “from”? “From” is a perfectly nice preposition. Use it or lose it!

      1. Usage guru Paul Brians calls this one a “non-error,” saying, “For most Americans, the natural thing to say is “Climb down off of [pronounced “offa”] that horse, Tex, with your hands in the air”; but many UK authorities urge that the “of” should be omitted as redundant. Where British English reigns you may want to omit the “of” as superfluous, but common usage in the US has rendered “off of” so standard as to generally pass unnoticed, though some American authorities also discourage it in formal writing. But if “onto” makes sense, so does “off of.” However, “off of” meaning “from” in phrases like “borrow five dollars off of Clarice” is definitely nonstandard.”

    4. I’m not sure, but I think “off of” is American usage; it’s seldom heard in Australia.

      Speaking of usage, I hear “yeah, no” a lot in Oz. Not sure about other places where English is the main language, although I’ve heard it used in some British TV and films.

      I’m a redundant proofreader who used to grouse about usage like “whilst” (while), “amidst” (amid), “amongst” (among), and “noone” (no one), but finally accepted the Macquarie Dictionary’s approach of merely recording usage rather than dictating it. Most clients had their own spelling and usage guides that I rigorously adhered to, (bit of text added so as not to end this sentence with a preposition).

    5. Diana Ross & the Supremes add an “of” & also torture-murder “Can’t take my eyes off you” [Valli/Gaudio]

  3. Does not necessarily fall under grammar police rubric but my beef is when you say thank you to a service person and they reply “No problem”.

    1. Yes! What the hell happened to “you’re welcome”? If it isn’t “no problem”, it’s “no worries.” Ugh.

      1. “You’re welcome” doesn’t mean the same thing as “no problem”. When someone says “no problem” the implication is that there’s nothing to be thankful for. I see it as a polite response that removes any obligation from the other person. It’s equivalent to “de nada” in Spanish, which no one seems to object to.

      2. Actually, the answer to ‘thank you’ is ‘Thank you.’ The customer thanks the retailer for the merchandise and the retailer thanks the customer for the money.

    2. What is up with “thank you very much”
      or “thank you so much ?”

      IF one is thanking another
      for any reason at all, then
      is not “thank you” as much of
      an expression of gratitude, genuine,
      as any other statement thereof ?

      Are not those other extra words
      just superfluous fluffy foo – foo ?
      Thus, meaningless … …
      as well as … … annoying ?

      And the correct response to that
      one ‘thank you’ then is
      one ‘you’re welcome’.

      END of all thanking and
      of all acknowledging thereof ! Not ?


      1. I wonder if, especially these days, a lot of these profuse expressions of gratitude come from the dictates of “positive psychology,” where one is enjoined to express gratitude (and forgiveness) and be (I think mindlessly) happy about everything all the time, not think negative thoughts, not dwell on negative things, protect yourself from all negativity. One must be grateful for everything all the time, and one must express it. This leads to happiness, the positive psychologists say. Though I recognize that there’s a lot of selfishness and egotism in all of us, myself included, and that I do need to learn to be grateful for many things I simply expect and take for granted, there’s much that bothers me about this; too often, when it’s effusive , I find it a tyranny, whether I’m the one expressing gratitude or it’s being expressed to me, whatever the status of the grammar. But because I articulate this thought, the positive psychologists would call me selfish and ungrateful. So be it.

    3. “No problem” is fine; it’s just a vogue expression. Such expressions arise and recede all on their own in the course of time. During the period when they may be popular, they reflect passing attitudes in the culture that signify with-it-ness or unity or casual ease.

      The expression “no problem” is a contemporary way of saying “not at all” or “it’s nothing” (“ce n’est rien”), “not a bother,” or “no trouble,” meaning “it’s no trouble” to me to help you out. It’s meant to be polite in just this vein, and that’s exactly what it is.

    4. When I purchase an item, I’m more (and more?)frequently hearing the cashier/”associate” say, “There you go.” Is this supposed to be synonymous for “thank you”? Are company trainers training employees to say “there you go”?

      I say “thank you” out of basic courtesy, but, it seems that the company and its assigns should rather say “thank you” to me, inasmuch as I’m the one handing over the money.

      I worked the desk at the family business and was ALWAYS the first one to say “thank you.” From my yesteryear experience it was always that way at any business.

  4. Actually, every time I’ve seen the double-is, I just assumed the person accidentally typed the word twice. I didn’t realize this was a thing people do on purpose because, as you said, it makes no damn sense.

    1. The reason is is can be emphasized. The purpose of the double is is to underscore that the what allegedly is is.

    2. It’s an mistake people make because of the similarity to the phrase, “what it is, is…” In that usage, it makes sense. “What it is, is a mistake.” But some people use that same kind of construction where it doesn’t belong and end up repeating the “is” unnecessarily, such as in the phrase, “The thing is, is…” It’s annoying.

      1. As is said about ketchup:

        When you pour it from a bottle
        First, none’ll come out
        Then a lot’ll.

            1. I was going to credit it to Thurber, but Nash seems even more likely. One or another of those New Yorker doggerelists, anyway.

  5. I think the second ‘is’ is an Americanism, as it’s rarely heard in British English, where in ‘the thing is, that…’ the comma gives a pause and the pause gives the emphasis. But now that you’ve woken the grammar dragon, my pet peeve is the American habit of using multiple prepositions where one would do, as in ‘off of’….’I got it off of…’, where ‘I got it off…’, or I got it from…’ would do.

    Thank you, I feel better now.

    1. I’ve heard it quite a bit in British English too.
      I’m mostly pretty relaxed about the inevitable evolution of language but there’s definitely a few things that bother me. I know lots of people go on about this but “I could care less” is a real irritation, and I absolutely don’t buy Pinker’s suggestion that it’s used ironically with an implied “As if” at the front.

      1. It’s funny what irritates us. I actually agree with Pinker because when I use that phrase I mean exactly what Pinker describes.

      2. “…but there’s definitely a few things that bother me.”

        Me, too. Your “there’s” should be “there’re.” 😉

  6. When asked a question by a TV interviewer at least nine out of ten people respond, “Well, …”. What is the point of the “well”?

    1. It is a filler word allowing time to think. I have ‘no problem’ (ahem – sorry Steve Oberski!) with ‘well’ in that context, I have a problem with ‘so’ in the same position, especially if the statement that follows is not a logical consequence of the previous statement. But that is a lost fight I fear…

      1. So, the use of so is fairly recent. When I first heard it I was annoyed. Later I thought I should get over it. Maybe I could try using it myself. It still annoys me and I’ve never used it.

        1. It seems to have replaced “well”, mainly with the younger generations, who shouldn’t be on my lawn anyway.

      2. Well, I don’t have a problem with it per se. I have a problem with the frequency and predictability of its use. When I listen to someone answer a question on, for example, a TV news interview or panel, I find myself making a bet about whether they’ll start off with “well”, and I usually win.

      3. The uses and (subjective) interpretations of “well” vary. I notice Hitch used it not infrequently in responding to questions. Possibly it’s used (in an attempt) to soften a verbal, differing response and opinion. I perceive it sometimes simply to be something of a mellifluous, prefatory remark, used to minimize the perception that one is chomping at the bit to respond quickly and sharply.

        I once uttered “Well” as the first word in response to the statement of another. She cut me off after “Well,” saying, “You can sit there and say ‘Well’ if you want to!” She took it as a sign of opposition to her statement, which was not my intention. My intention was to keep the bloody peace. (Though I did respond, “I can STAND and say it!” But she apparently didn’t hear that.)

        1. Possibly it’s used (in an attempt) to soften a verbal, differing response and opinion. I perceive it sometimes simply to be something of a mellifluous, prefatory remark, used to minimize the perception that one is chomping at the bit to respond quickly and sharply.

          I begin sentences with “Well” too often, and this pretty much describes the reason. I mainly use it in order to pass off a know-it-all style of response as an offhand remark. Example:

          “So what do you think about this topic?”

          “Well, I don’t know much about this topic, but here are the five reasons I think you are wrong and I am right about it.”

    2. In academia (at least in the US, for biomedical sciences), it’s “Soooo …” instead of “Well …” This has been true since the 1980s at least. I suspect that my graduate alma mater may have been ground zero for this phenomenon.

    3. Yes, as others have said, a placeholder. If you’ve ever seen someone interviewed who *doesn’t* do this, but remains perfectly silent until they’re ready to start a complete sentence, it’s surprisingly disconcerting.

      1. Bill Clinton did that frequently. (Probably still does, but I don’t hear him often these days.) It was indeed noticeable and impressed me.

  7. The use of “loose” for “lose:” “They will loose the game.” Ubiquitous in comments on the internet.

    1. Not to be confused with “loose” as a poetic synonym for “to let loose,” as in Yeats’s “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

    2. Isn’t ‘loose’ for ‘lose’ just an error in spelling? I don’t recall having heard the words spoken incorrectly. Similary, ‘their’ and ‘there’ is only ever a problem when written as they are pronounced the same way, unlike ‘they’re’ which has a distinctive pronunciation, just as ‘ware’ and ‘wear’ are pronounced the same way but differently from ‘where’.

      1. Homophone errors are common, even among careful writers. The problem with “loose” for “lose” is that “-ose” does not readily suggest the “oo” sound that “lose” requires. Consider familiar words like “nose,” “hose,” “chose,” “prose,” and “rose.” With those in mind, to many writers “lose” just seems wrong.

  8. I don’t think the second ‘is’ in ‘the thing is, is that’ is being added for emphasis. I think the initial ‘thing is’ is being parsed as a single noun. Something like ‘The thing-is is that…’.

    I highly recommend Guy Deutscher’s ‘The Unfolding of Language’ where he talks a lot about this process: common phrases are mentally parsed as words and then erode away so they become them. A fabulous example he gives is the French “aujourd’hui” which built up originally from the Latin “hoc diem” – “this day”, which turned into the Latin “hodie” – “today”, which eroded into “hui” in early French. But then because the word was becoming so short, “Au jour d’hui” began to be added for emphasis – “on the day of today”, and itself eroded into a single word form. Apparently the process seems to be starting again, with people now sometimes saying “au jour d’aujourd’hui” – “on the day of on the day of today”!

    1. OMG! Au jour d’aujourd’hui, for realz??

      Thanks for the fascinating info on the evolution of aujourd’hui. Despite a French degree, I never knew that.

      1. Apparently so, but I’m not a fluent French speaker and I can’t testify to it directly. According to the book it’s happening particularly among speakers for whom “aujourd’hui” has eroded to something more like “ojdui” and so has lost the link to its etymology.

  9. Wow, some people are very intolerant of these common verbal ticks. The extra ‘is’ in Jerry’s example is unlikely to be for emphasis; it’s almost certainly to facilitate a pause after the first ‘is’. The repeated word serves to gloss over the pause (unconsciously)and buys thinking time for the speaker – as does starting your answers with ‘Well …’. I don’t think pausing to think before you speak is necessarily a bad thing. You can call the repeated ‘is’ ungrammatical if you like, but it in no way impedes communication, so in that sense there are bigger fish to fry.

    1. Do you realize how offensive “fish to fry” is to those of us who identify as piscine? And the “bigger” is body shaming.

    2. I don’t take well to commenters telling me what to do or say,nothing that my post is superfluous (as you’ve just done) or calling me intolerant. Knock it off, please.
      Seriously, “bigger fish to fry”? Do you want every post about North Korea?

      1. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean my comment to be rude but, reading it back, I can see why it came across that way. Profuse apologies! I actually really like language-related posts (more than posts about North Korea even) and just got overexcited.

      2. I also won’t mention fish again.
        In fact, the ‘bigger fish to fry’ comment was not intended to mean that there are more important topics to discuss. I meant (but didn’t explain well) that there are verbal ticks which are more insidious because they reveal something about the person’s attitudes. One that bugs me, for example, is the frequent use of ‘so-called’ (e.g. “according to these so-called experts …”) to cast aspersions without offering evidence.
        Anyway, I’ll be quiet now.

        1. Yes the “so-called” like when Trump said “the so-called judges”. Well, they are so-called because they are indeed judges and therefore it makes perfect sense that we call them judges.

    3. It’s sloppy and cutesy. It feels like it’s written by some stubborn teenager who things he/she is cool and wants attention.

      Apart from that it does not bother me, but note big fish eat little fish. And if you can clean up the little fish you necessarily get to the big fish.

      1. I don’t understand what your comment about big fish and little fish means. Are you saying that picking up on minor linguistic errors (if you want to call them errors) somehow leads you to more significant issues? If that is what you’re saying, I don’t really agree.

    1. Well, thanks for that, is what I say! The thing is, this is what will get Drumpf off in a court of law. He is the Grand Meister of grammatical mangulation. 🙂

  10. I may well have shared this before – ‘direct descendant of…’ – the ONLY type of ‘descendant’ IS direct! If there is no descent, then there is no ancestor/descendant relationship, it is merely a relationship, so the person/creature is a distant relative.

      1. Found via Google:

        « A direct descendent is someone who can trace their lineage by “child” relationships all the way back to the desired ancestor. A non-direct descendent has to go through a “cousin” or a “by marriage” or some other non-child relationship in order to find the desired ancestor. »


  11. One of my favourite language stories:

    An MIT linguistics professor was lecturing his class the other day. “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative.”

    A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

    1. Well, it’s funny, but “Yeah, right,” isn’t really a double positive. Rather, it’s a (sarcastic) reiterative, like “Sure, definitely.”

    2. I like the one about the MIT linguist who, while visiting Texas, stopped by a bar for a beer:

      “Where you from?” asked the bartender.

      “I, sir, am from a place where we know better than to end a sentence with a preposition.”

      “Ok, where you from, asshole?”

      1. Of course, no one would ever ask “From where are you?” And the proscription against ending sentences with prepositions was never a rule in any case. In many cases ending a sentence with a preposition both eases comprehension and avoids an awkward construction. When a sentence uses a phrasal verb, for example, the adverbial particle (a preposition) often occurs after its object, as in “What are you talking about?”

        The version of this joke that I’m familiar with plays on the regional use of the superfluous “at,” a pleonasm some see at stigmatizing. It gives rise to the joke:

        A Texan touring the Harvard campus asks a student, “Can you tell me where the library is at?”

        The student replies: “Here at Harvard we don’t end sentences with ‘at’.”

        The Texan says, “OK. Can you tell me where the library is at, asshole?”

  12. I hate when people type quote unquote. Once I even ran into someone who typed it as quote onquote. I pointed out to them you do not type that, and they excused it as it just being something they say around where this person lived. Yes, yes. It’s something you say. It’s not something you write. If you’re not writing dialog you just put the quotes in. When it’s spoken its to draw attention to a direct quote.

    1. Oh, I can’t agree. “quote unquote” has a specific meaning that is distinct from simply quoting: it makes it clear that you are mocking or otherwise distancing yourself from the quote you’re making. (Fingerquotes do the same thing)

          1. The context is what distinguishes them. I’ve never seen “quote/unquote” written out, and I’ve never had any trouble identifying scare quotes, or mocking quotes, from the context.

  13. Disinterested/Uninterested – they’re two different words with two different meanings people.

    1. Yeah, I’m still trying to hold the line on those, as well as on advantageous/adventitious and enormity/enormousness.

      I fear the gods of good usage may be forsaking us on these.

    2. I also used to get huffy about disinterested/uninterested (well, [sorry!] I still do), until I looked up the etymology, and learned that the use of disinterested to mean uninterested precedes the current usage, and vice versa. In other words, uninterested ones meant free of bias, and disinterested once meant unconcerned… All of which tells us that we should probably stop being grammar Nazis since mutability is inevitable, and language evolves a lot faster than lifeforms.

      1. I couldn’t agree more, John. Many pet peeves about language are based on mistaken or outdated views about what is correct. People rail against words losing their ‘original’ meaning but are quite happy to accept this shift if it predates their own era (e.g. the word ‘nice’, which meant ‘foolish’ in Shakespeare’s time but later came to mean ‘pleasant’). I don’t see any logic in this. And if non-standard grammatical forms are used often enough, they become correct because that’s how language works. Nobody today would claim it is grammatically incorrect to say “Aren’t I clever?”, even though ‘are’ is not the standard first person form of the verb ‘be’. It has become correct because it has been used so often.

  14. I’ve cringed at the “is is” thing for a few years now. It frequently pops up in the technology podcasts I listen to, and the guilty speakers are usually Californian, though I don’t know if it’s a California thing or not. The same people also don’t seem to know the difference between “bring” and “take,” as in “Will you bring your computer on your trip to Costa Rica?” Gack.

  15. The question is, is it grammatical?

    I find the double-is construction infelicitous in most circumstances. But I approve when it’s used archly or to capture a colloquial feel.

    But then, I heartily approve of all kinds of ungrammatical, and semi-grammatical, constructions where they’re used for humorous or demotic effect.

    ‘Swhat keeps language vital.

  16. Let’s face it. That second “is” denotes pure ignorance; a failure of education.

    As for pet peeves, how about “beg the question” which means the opposite of what most of its users think it means.

    1. No matter how much we may decry it, “begs the question” now actually does mean “prompts the question.” The original “correct” usage is simply too obscure for most people to understand, much less to use in the proper context (that is, to mean “assumes the conclusion”).

      That’s why, like it or not, for most people the expression has evolved to include the new meaning. And to inveigh against it is futile. The phrase has become, as they say in linguistics, skunked. I like Mark Liberman’s recommendation:

      “Never use the phrase yourself — use “assume the conclusion” or “raise the question”, depending on what you mean — and cultivate an attitude of serene detachment in the face of its use by others.”

      1. I never use the phrase. I’m actually incapable of using it properly anyway because my brain always goes to the new meaning. The new meaning makes far more sense imo, so I just avoid it altogether and never comment when someone else does.

    2. I am one of those who cringes and shudders when I hear someone say “begs the question” instead of “raises the question.” I wouldn’t say it means the opposite. Rather, it’s the name of the fallacy of assuming the conclusion in the premise, or a circular argument. We know the Bible is true because it says so in the Bible.

      Occasionally I offer a correction. Usually I just suffer in silence.

      I’ve gotten so used to hearing this term misused that when it’s used correctly I feel jolted. I was listening to a Youtube vid of Christopher Hitchens, who used the term correctly, and it gave me a mild shock.

  17. The “double is” is common in speech. Obama uses it often. What happens is that “the truth is” or “the fact is” or “what it is” or “the problem is” becomes what’s called a lexical bundle, a unit that serves as the subject. And it needs a verb.

    1. Yes, I have noticed Obama’s infelicitous use of is-is, but it just leaps out at the listener because of the felicity of the rest of his speech, unlike the speech of his successor…

      1. I don’t think Barry uses it in formal address, only when speaking colloquially. You can tell by the way he starts droppin’ his “g”s, too.

  18. Thank you! I’d noticed that too and it was getting on my nerves.

    Another is using “reached out” instead of “contacted”. One might conceivably say one “reached out” to a grieving family if the word “contacted” seems too intrusive, but otherwise there is no reason why the New York Times should “reach out” to the White House. The worst one I’ve seen was recently, when there was evidence than an ISIS operative had “reached out” to another ISIS group in another country. Stop it!

    1. The phrase “reach out” is ubiquitous on cop dramas. I wonder if real police use that phrase.

    2. Hell, I don’t care much for “contacted,” either. Sounds a bit weaselly. Why not just say whether you called or wrote or messenger-pigeoned or whatever?

        1. Sure, just as the vagueness of the passive voice is sometimes useful. But both are used too often, and too often used to obfuscate.

    3. I don’t like NY Times reporters’ (and by inference editors’) habit of saying that so-and-so “signaled” this or that. (I reflexively say, “Was it a smoke signal?) To me that’s opinionating/speculating. Why not simply tell readers what if anything so-and-so said or did, and let us determine on our own what if anything was “signaled”?

  19. Besides the usual apostrophe abominations, the use of myself drive me up a wall. It is especially present in sports star interviews. “That was a ball that myself should have caught.” “The team counts on myself to play better.” Ack!!!

    1. Speakin’ of sports, the great sportswriter Red Smith called “myself” a “foxhole of ignorance, where cowards take refuge, because they were taught that me is vulgar and I is egotistical.”

      It oughta be reserved for reflexive action (“I washed myself”) and for emphasis (“I, myself, wouldn’t go.”).

      1. Ah, the halcyon days of Bob Edwards, when he periodically visited with Red Smith on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

  20. I use such incorrect expressions, but that is because I am not a native speaker of English language. So sometimes, I am just translating my thoughts in my language into English while speaking with someone.

    The phrase you have mentioned “The thing is that..”, could also be attributed to a native Hindi speaker translating the usage “baat yeh hai ki”.. which could be loosely translated as “The thing is, that”

  21. I have two. They both come from what I hear on National Public Radio, and they grate on me every time.

    The first one is fairly trivial, and usually committed by interviewees. When asked details of how something was done, they start their reply with, “What we did was, we…”. This is arguably a worse offense than the double ‘is’, but certainly in the same ballpark.

    The second one pertains more to inflection than grammar; in particular how voice inflection implies punctuation. Many NPR reporters end their sentences with what sounds to the ear like a comma rather than a period. It drives me nuts. Maybe other reporters do it too, but I mostly listen to NPR. I wonder if it is trained into them in an attempt to keep the listener engaged, of if most just pick it up because all the other reporters are doing it.

  22. “Concerning” as a predicate adjective, ubiquitous among the chattering classes, bugs me a bit — as in “Sen. Foghorn’s habit of leaving his fly open is concerning.”

    I mean, “concerning” how? And to whom and why? I think the speaker usually means “concerns me.”

    Can’t really bitch about it too much, though, since, under the same circumstances, I don’t find “troubling” concerning.

    1. Agreed! This is a vogue usage, fairly recent, and it seems to have caught on. My objection is that it can seem ambiguous at first and, more important, we have established synonyms like “troubling” and “disturbing” that are always more fitting.

  23. Q: Can I get you something to eat?
    A: No I am fine
    Happy to know you are fine but you didn’t answer my question.

    1. I knew a bartender, in a dive bar down on the docks, who would answer that one “I didn’t ask you how the hell you are; I asked if you wanted another drink.”

      1. You’ve touched on a pet hate of mine now! Nowadays th,e usual answer to “How are you?” seems to be “I’m good” rather than “I’m well”, or “I’m fine”. To me, “I’m good” sounds like a claim of perfect morals, not a statement of health.

        1. Ever have anyone say to you, “How are you?” You reply, “fine,” and s/he says, “Fine, thank you!”? Or, someone in your presence sneezes, and then says “Thank you!”? In either case you yourself have said not one word.

  24. I still remember this from over 30yrs ago in Pittsburgh, on a bus. The whole half hour the woman behind me loudly recounting a previous conversation. Every time she opened her mouth, she began, “So then I says to her, I says…”

    I wouldda moved but the bus was packed.

      1. Pittsburgh is somewhat famous for “yinz”.

        But Pittsburgh isn’t the only place where you’ll hear this. You’ll hear “you’uns” in rural central PA. I’ve also heard “you’unses” to indicate a roomful of people.

        I like that! I certainly do say “you” when talking to one person, but sometimes for the sh*ts ‘n’ giggles I’ll shamelessly say “you’uns” if I’m talking to two people, and you’unses when there’s a larger bunch.

        Makes me think of Sanskrit which has singular you, dual you, and plural you.

        1. One hears this in the Appalachian South also.

          I waited tables summers during high school. One day the hostess running the shift used the possessive of “you’uns” when she asked the wait staff: “Do you have your’unses (pronounced “urines-is”) waters ready?” (That is, we’d go ahead and fill up a goodly number of glasses with water and ice in anticipation of the almost guaranteed “rush.”)

    1. This is very common in British English. To be slightly serious for a moment, I seem to remember that Darwin himself compared species evolution to language evolution, though the latter is obviously a much faster process; it only took a few hundred years for Latin to become Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese (as well as a whole lot of less mainstream languages like Provencal/Occitan and Catalan). And of course the Latin they evolved from was “vulgar Latin”, i.e. the kind of Latin where people would have said things like “Res est, est” (the thing is, is…). So all these things that were complaining about tell us that that the thing is, is that evolution is true…

  25. I find it quite annoying that in government and business people say often “you need to sign off on this document” instead of saying “you need to sign this document” or “you need to approve this document.”

    1. Ah but I do! I don;t sign the document, I sign off on the document! I must sign off on all technical work from our department, or it is not released That includes documentation. So I sign off on the the document, but I don’t sign the document.

  26. As far as I know a double “that,” as in “I understand that that is a common belief . . .,” is proper grammar but I usually try to avoid it for fear of confusing people.

    1. Sure it’s grammatical, since the two “that”s perform different functions — the first is a relative pronoun introducing a clause or phrase; the second, a pronoun referring back to an antecedent noun of pronoun.

      Especially in informal writing, I try to omit relative pronouns where it can be done without causing confusion.

      I know {that] that’s something others do, too.

      1. I also find that that is a common problem with spellcheckers, which helpfully pick up on the the tendency to double up on minor words like definite and indefinite articles.

  27. ‘So’ — to preface an explanation seems to be the latest meaningless verbal tic. I have heard it numerous times on serious radio interviews, especially on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp’s excellent and long-running show ‘Quirks and Quarks.’ Post-docs seem especially prone to it.
    For those unfamiliar with the show, incidentally, podcasts are available thru, and the show itself is on SiriusXM. Try it, you’ll like it!

    1. For me, the new “so” represents a recent, accelerating trend in both speech and writing. Its linguistic purpose is interesting. It’s a vogue usage that amounts to a brisk way for the speaker to hit the ground running. Conventionally, as a conjunction, “so” indicates that the speaker is building consequentially on a specific earlier reference, but in this new usage no specific referent exists. The listener is implicitly asked to adopt the sense of one, or just to hop on board a little out of breath.

      In linguistics such a habit of use is known as a “discourse particle.” Discourse particles are are small words that do not contribute grammatically to the content of a phrase. They are common in conversation, where they are meant to suggest the speaker’s attitude, hint at background assumptions, express emotion, or contribute to coherence. Take “well,” for example. Depending on its context and inflection, “well” can suggest hesitation, uncertainly, deference, sarcasm, or other attitudes.

  28. I’ve recently been annoyed by english speakers’ inability to pronounce german words with at least a modicum of correctness (mostly on podcasts).

    Case in point: *every* english speaker *knows* how to pronounce the german diphthong “ei”. (Don’t believe me? Then say the name “Einstein”. See, you *do* know how to pronounce it.) However, when occuring in other words, one regulary gets served with “Leepzig” and “Leebniz”.

    I think this might be because english pronunciation and spelling are at best loosely correlated.

    1. Exactly. “Bernstein” especially, both Lenny and Carl, are almost always pronounced in the US as “Bersteen”. If that were correct, Mr Relativity would have to be Albert Eensteen.

          1. Actually, “Radical Chic” was the piece about the party at Lenny’s; “Mau Mauing” was about the Panthers menacing Bay area bureaucrats.

        1. I think of that every time I hear a pundit mispronounce Assistant AG Rod Rosenstein’s name as “Rosensteen.”

          If I’m within earshot of the radio or tv, I’ll think of the maestro and shout “STINE!”

          1. Or how about Rothschild? Does anyone ever say ‘Rote Shilt’ (to use an English-spelling approximation), other than Germans?
            At least we’ve dropped the superfluous ‘h’ in Neandertal.

            1. In German, the first “h” would be pretty much completely silent. Looks like a relict from before the spelling reform of 1901, which pretty much abolished these constructs.

              And that’s why why “neanderthal” is pronounced with a hard “t” in English 🙂

    2. Americans know how to correctly pronounce the ‘ei’ in Einstein because we’ve heard the name many, many times on TV, movies, etc. But the pronunciation of a German word unfamiliar to the average American would be uncertain, hence the ‘Leepzig’ or ‘Leebniz’.

      Also, I’m certain I’ve heard math teachers say ‘Leebniz’, which is how I thought it was pronounced.

      BTW, isn’t Einstein correctly supposed to be pronounced ‘Einshtein’, with an ‘sh’ sound before the ‘t’?

      1. And that’s a key difference between German and English – if you can spell it correctly in German*, you can usually** know the pronunciation. Your math teachers were wrong.

        Most German speakers indeed say “sht”, only northern Germans say “st”. But that’s a matter of dialect. In any case, it’s not a full-throated “sch” as in Schwarzwald, more a casual sound.

        * Same thing applies to Flemish. Dunno any other languages well enough to declare.
        ** Of course there are exceptions. 🙂

    3. I always flinch when I hear Americans referring to Goerrrbbels or Goerrrthe. But then, as an Australian I talk about someone doing a drawring.

      1. That Aussie way of smuggling in the “r” sounds charming to me – though I can’t for the life of me figure why Herr Goebbels gets an extra “r”.

  29. Two current bees in my grammatical bonnet:

    1) The use of “amount” rather than “number” for entities that can be counted individually, e.g. “the amount of people….” rather than “the number of people…” This usage seems to be very common now, but I cringe every time I see it.

    2) The habit of adding an “already” to the end of statements. “Enough, already!” What’s the “already” there for? As far as I can see it adds nothing at all. I think this originated in American speech, but no doubt it will contaminate the rest of the English-speaking world.

    1. It is simply an exclamation. Many of these things people are bringing up here are simply creative usages of language. I think criticism of them is more accurately described as art criticism rather than grammar policing.

    2. The first apis mellifera in your chapeau seems related to the frequently flubbed distinction between “fewer” and “less.”

        1. A coworker who volunteers doing tree planting and various other ecology things, handed me a poster to show an event he had helped organize. It had a Latin binomial that wasn’t capitalized. I told him “you wrote your Latin binomial wrong”. I bet he didn’t know I’d know that but he got on the phone and got it fixed right away and was very thankful that i noticed. As someone with a Classics degree, the capitalization of Latin is jarring. It’s probably how I noticed it right away.

        2. Or, v. v., capitalising the specific name. Or not setting it in italics (with allowances for social networks that don’t allow you to).

          In the end, there are more ways to get it wrong than there are to get it right.

          But it’s surprising how many places that should know better find one of them.


          1. Yep, all those variants-in-error–arrgh!

            And as to your last point, omg yes! I don’t even remember whether the NYT is still guilty or not*, but they used to do it rong all the time despite publishing otherwise high-quality science articles. Why a simple convention like this wasn’t automatically part of their stylebook I’ve never understood.

            (Text-speak included just to rankle other purists here. 😀 )

            *A very brief glance at some recent biology-related articles showed no use of binomials whatsoever, sigh.

  30. Why us everyone taking “deep dives” these days?? Why don’t they just go jump in the proverbial lake ( after getting off ( not of) my lawn…)?

  31. ‘I wrote my mother’. No, you wrote to your mother. Writing your mother simply entails writing the word.

      1. Craw, I disagree. One either writes a letter to one’s mother, or writes one’s mother a letter. Would you say that you wrote a letter your mother? To put it another way, if you were to say that you wrote a letter, would it be fair to assume that the letter was the recipient of your writing?
        Writing is a form of communication, and when communicating verbally does one talk one’s mother, or talk to her?

  32. When I was in work, the phrase “forward planning” got on my nerves. Does anyone ever do “backward planning”?


  33. “The thing is, is that. . . . “

    This is known in some quarters as the “double copula”, and it’s of fairly recent origin – circa 1971, according to Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3rd edition).

  34. Speaking of fairly recent innovations, one thing I hear a lot from younger speakers is “based off of” instead of “based on”.

          1. I wouldn’t usually but it is the theme of this post, so it would have been rude not to. 🙂

  35. There are a lot of things people say that rub me the wrong way (“very unique” or “I could care less”, etc). But before I get my Grammar Nazi hat on I try to remind myself of an olde tyme usenet wag who is reputed to have said (paraphrase);

    “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

    Any errors, mine.

  36. I was taught to say, ‘if I were …’
    When I hear ‘if I was’ it always sounds odd.

    I think my pet peeve is the confusion of good and well.

    Yes, NPR seems to have very lax standards in regards both usage and content.

    1. If it were is the subjunctive and is used in counter-factuals or expressions of doubt or disclaimer. If it was can be correct in other cases. Two examples.

      I don’t believe you when you say it is raining. If it were raining I would hear noise on the tin roof, and I don’t.

      Last night I heard noise on the tin roof. It might have been rain. If it was raining the grass will be wet.

  37. Congratulations Jerry. You’re the first American, far as I know, to notice the dreaded “is is.” It’s been driving me crazy since the late 1980’s. I first heard it from Oprah. Then all American television people (who speak English for a living). Everyone on CNN does it. Obama’s speeches were full of it. Around 2000 it spread across the border, like a disease, into Canada. Emphasis has nothing to do with it. Best I can figure is that 2 words into a sentence, they’ve forgotten how it started, thinking they said “WHAT” the thing is. What that is is different. What this is is correct grammer. By the way, the past tense of “is is” is,apparently, “was is.”

    1. It’s been annoying me for years. I’m glad to find that I’m not the only one. As I see it, ‘The thing is, is (that)’ is just an elaborate throat-clearing and contributes nothing to the sentence.

  38. This isn’t really about poor grammar, but about a frustration with the language as it developed in two different regions. I never know what anybody means when they use the word “table” as a verb.

    American usage (which I grew up with) means “to postpone”, while the British and Canadian usage (which I live with) means “to discuss now”. This is something I hear in meetings all the time and I’m never sure which usage is meant unless I know the nationality of the speaker.

    The word is its own antonym! I have abandoned it altogether.

        1. Since we’re among friendly pedants on this hyah site, might I ask why the Sly version is called Que Sera, Que Sera rather than Que Sera, Sera? What will be what will be is as bad as is is…

          1. I think whoever posted the tune on youtube just got the title wrong. I’ve got a copy of Fresh, the Sly & the Family Stone album it’s from, and the track is listed there as “Qué Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” (accent marks and parenthetical included!).

  39. I’m tired of hearing the word “right”. Young people seem the most afflicted by that word, right? And it is said to mean “I know”, right? Right.

  40. “than” and “from”. I am different than you. Doesn’t sound right to me. Should be different from. The two are used interchangeably too often – lost cause department. Language does change.
    “Close personal friend”
    Am sure that I can think of some more eventually…..
    “passed away” is awful but common usage now.

    1. “Different from” is the standard form everywhere. “Different” is used to draw a distinction between things; to separate, hence the preposition “from.” In contrast, “than” is a conjunction used in making a comparison. That is, it’s used to join, for purposes of measure or observation.

      “Different to” is more common in the UK, though not necessarily approved. “Different than” is used in some constructions (to avoid awkwardness), but it’s rarely preferred.

      As Cecil Adams writes, “A sensible discussion of ‘different from’ versus ‘different than’ may be found in Theodore M. Bernstein’s ‘The Careful Writer,’ published in 1965. Bernstein favors the former usage in most instances. So does the usage panel in my 1976 ‘American Heritage Dictionary.’ The argument has nothing to do with Latin. People say ‘different than’ out of the mistaken belief that ‘different’ is a comparative adjective and thus takes ‘than,’ as with ‘better than,’ ‘faster than,’ etc. But it’s not a comparative (diff, differ, diffest?), it just looks like one. ‘Different’ is used to draw a distinction and thus properly takes ‘from,’ as do ‘separate from,’ ‘distinct from,’ ‘apart from,’ etc. (One recognizes that we say in contrast to; one also concedes that another false comparative, other than, is firmly entrenched in the language. Never mind, this is English. One does the best one can.)”

      1. One never knows, do one? (Can’t remember who said that. Some famous jazz guy.)
        I greatly (bigly) prefer different FROM. I’m an American living in Canada and I think I hear both “from” and “to” up here. I do notice mostly “to” from Brits, in person, in writing, and on TV.

  41. As much as I decry changes that can be confusing for a while (especially when technical terms go through it, like “begs the question”) – my biggest beef is strong linguistic prescriptivism!

  42. One of my pet peeves is “The reason is. . .because. . . .” as in “The reason I’m going to the store is because we’re out of milk.” Should be either “I’m going to the store because we’re out of milk” or “The reason I’m going to the store is that we’re out of milk.”

  43. Bill Clinton would not be able here to argue that it depend on
    “what your definition of ‘is’ is.

  44. Actually, some grammar mavens disallow

    My point is, is that…

    but allow

    What my point is is that…

    since in the latter statement “what my point is” is a dependent clause functioning as a whole as the subject of the sentence which “is” the 2nd being the main verb.

    Either way this is known as a double copula (coincidentally I am currently vacationing near Francis Coppola wineries).

    1. Around my crib, a “double Coppola” is, is when we pop Gf1 & Gf2 on the blu-ray while cooking a big pot of Sunday gravy with macaroni.

      We use the recipe Clemenza taught Michael before he clipped Solozzo and the police captain at the restaurant in the Bronx. 🙂

      1. I don’t understand why people say ‘crib’, which is a baby’s bed, rather than ‘house’.

        1. « There are other senses of crib, especially that of a small house, cabin or hovel (from an extension of the sense of an animal stall), which eventually led to the meaning in the South Island of New Zealand of a small house at the seaside or at a holiday resort, to thieves’ slang of the early nineteenth century for a house, shop or public-house and to the slightly later US slang usage for a saloon, a low dive, or brothel (and also the current US Black English sense of one’s room, house or apartment).

          The baby’s bed doesn’t arrive until the seventeenth century as an application of the barred container idea, others from the same source being a repository for hops during harvest and a wickerwork basket or pannier. »

          [World Wide Words]


  45. “arrector pilae” — I followed your link and discovered its meaning. Whew! At first I thought it might be something like “sphincter”.
    But seriously, I am also a little bit grammar Nazi, er, perfectionist. But when I get too uppity and righteous I reread the Wikipedia entry about the Oxford comma. It’s usually better to do a major rewrite of a sentence than struggle with, e.g., comma placement.

  46. For free!

    You may buy something for a dollar.
    Or you may get it free of charge.
    Then you’ve gotten it free, not for free.

  47. I never use the second “is” when I say that. How odd. I have heard, “the thing of it is”. I don’t know how I feel about this. I’m leaning toward not liking it because it is both ambiguous and seems like an attempt to sound fancy, like when people use “myself” as in “Joe, Dick, Harry and myself went out for ice cream”.

  48. The substitution of “would have” for “had,” as in “If we would have done this, they would have done that,” instead of “If we had done this, they would have done that.” Annoying and unnecessarily redundant.

  49. The phrase “period of time” because of its two redundant words.

    It’s users seem to think the term period needs to be continually defined as a time interval, just in case we think its a period of distance or height or marshmallows or g*d knows what.

    1. I believe that qualifies as the rhetorical device litotes — a form of understatement in which a point is emphasized through the negation of the opposite, as in “not for no reason” or “the Queen is not amused.”

  50. I don’t like the word “sanction.” E.g., a given event is “sanctioned by” (endorsed by) some governing body. And then the apparent opposite, as in, e.g., one country “issuing sanctions against” another. Confusing.

  51. Ha! All of the above. “Is is” is an abomination. I yell at the tv every time I hear “waiting on” instead of “waiting for.” Pronoun usage fills me with despair.

  52. Of course some grammatical differences are simply regional. The lie-lay-lain (intransitive verb) and lay-laid-laid (transitive verb) are confused all the time. Whenever i hear someone saying ‘While I was laying in bed……’, I want to say ‘What were you laying? An egg?’ Americans use this more than Brits or Australians, though of course, as to be expected, American English is strongly influencing the English of other English speaking countries more and more.

    1. OK, I can’t resist …

      Why do you want to say “What were you laying?” when it’s clearly just a vocabulary / grammar error?
      I realise your comment is perhaps slightly jocular, but I know a lot of people who actually do say this – or at least strongly feel the urge to – when they hear ‘I was laying …’.
      Because of the past forms that you quote, the confusion between the two verbs ‘lie’ and ‘lay’ is really quite understandable. Aren’t you (and some others on this thread) just mocking people for having a slightly lower standard of education than you do?

  53. all y’all’s

    Plural possesive form of y’all. Used when addressing a group of 3 or more. Not to be confused with all y’alls, the plural non possesive form.

    Sometimes spelled as all ya’ll’s, depending on what state you are in.

    “Hey, all y’all’s car alarms are going off!”

    From the Urban Dictionary

  54. Oh boy, you asked for it.

    Centered around
    Would of/could of/should of

    Forward as “FOE ward”
    Jaguar as “jag wire”
    Anti-Semitic as “anti semEHtic”
    Him as “eem” (said by sports announcers, as in “struck eem out!”)

    I notice many young girls have an annoying way of pronouncing A, e.g., Thanks as “theenks” and amazing as “ameezeeng”.

    People who say “mile-an-hour”, as in “he was doing 80 mile-an-hour”.

  55. I’m on lunch break so haven’t had a chance to read all.
    Has anyone complained about folks using ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ as in “it happened to John and I?” aaarrrggghhh ~ My other great issue is with ran and run. I am surrounded by people who say “it had ran”… AND the seemingly really popular, and growing, misuse of ‘myself’ Heard a Senator say “It was myself and J____ who wrote . . .I have more but those are my most cringe worthy!

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