Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm Sorry, Mr. President, You Were Saying? (Or, 'How I Learned to Stop Listening to Anything of Substance and Love the Grammar Snobs')

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?

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Joel said...

In an oxymoronically relevant aside--and speaking of politics (and religion and philosophy and most other things)--your comments that involve the hypocritical and self-righteous accusations of grammar snobs always quickly lead me to the same conclusion: pharisees share the same brain and and they make me mad and they must be stopped.

I don't think I'm a violent man, but when I hear people say things like "shame on you" and "you owe your readers an apology," I want to hurt them. Badly. Not so they die--that would be too easy; they deserve to suffer.

It's little consolation that they quickly show themselves to be idiots who might better tend to their own glaring and ginormous weaknesses than go about loudly pronouncing judgement over the minor foibles of others.

Argh. Grr. Damn it all to a fiery hell.

And the fact that they get in our heads and never leave only makes it worse.

Um, now what was that you were saying?

June Casagrande said...


Phariseeism (?) evokes the same "this cannot stand" response in me.

Take heart in the fact that I don't hear that stuff often -- not for a couple years, in fact.

But, yeah, at the last paper where I worked, the "shame on you" reader signoff was a running joke among a couple of reporters.

Oh, then there was, "How do you sleep at night?" I got that one from a reader who didn't like a headline on my story. He said it was evidence that I was biased and shamelessly spinning my story.

I called him (he was a participant in one of the organizations covered so I knew how to reach him). And I not-so-gently explained to him that reporters don't write the headlines.

He apologized profusely. It was nice.

I wonder if he had any trouble sleeping that night.

Seriously, though. This sheds light on something I consider to be a serious problem the country is dealing with. Whenever someone does their work out of the spotlight, any shortcoming is presumed to be calculated, nefarious. Our culture has come to consider cyncism to be a safe place. You can protect yourself from being suckered by simply attributing the worst possible motives to anyone in any kind of power.

It's something that's fascinated me for a while. The "Oh, politicians are all corrupt. Reporters are all just trying to sell newspapers or spin lies. Business people are never motivited by anything other than money."

I'm late getting out the door this morning, so I may not connect the dots well here, but the result is that people won't believe in something when it's staring them right in the face (they're too savvy to "fall for it") so they just believe everything they want.

Okay, that was June logic on too little coffee and too little time. But hopefully some of it made sense. Me go work now ...


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