Some years ago, a reader of my column e-mailed me to say (if I recall the full contents of the message correctly): "'The reason is because?' You should know better than to have written that in your recent column. I think you owe your readers an apology."
That last sentence is a staple of grammar-column-reader slaps. No kiddin'. I've heard that a number of times. It bums me out because I happen to know that scathing e-mails to real journalists often conclude with the more emphatic, "Shame on you." So it shames me that I no longer qualify for the slaps that real newsmen and -women get.
Anyhoo, that e-mail was my first introduction to the idea that "the reason is because" is a no-no if Fussbudgetville. Of course, all I had to do was open up a couple of books to learn that there are plenty of experts who say it's a perfectly defensible (if less than ideal) construction.
Still, a slap is a slap. And it can go on stinging. So, ever since, I've tried to replace "the reason is because" with "the reason is that." I figured, why invite trouble?
Of course, when you do that, the grammar terrorists win. Years later, you can find yourself watching a one-hour press conference by the leader of the free world who's discussing issues of great interest to you -- healthcare, the economy, racial profiling of people who lose their house keys -- and instead of taking in all the valuable information, all you can do is count the number of times he says, "the reason is because."
(I counted three times, but I tuned in 12 minutes after it started, so who knows?)
Funny how effective bullying can be, huh?