Episode 12: November 13, 2008
Grammar Girl here.
Today I'm going to play two listener comments that will lead us to a discussion of wordiness and idioms.
First, here's Tod in Canada from the todbits.com website:
Can you help me correct people? Everyone that I know seems to not be able to [not] put the phrase' go ahead and' in front of a verb. Every time they want to say a verb, they put the phrase 'go ahead and' in front of it. [For example,] I'm going to go ahead and walk down the street; I'm going to go ahead and send you the email; and the phrase 'go ahead and' is completely redundant. So, please I would love you to correct this and also tell us what other other prefixes in front of verbs are completely irrelevant. I'm going to go ahead and hang up now and listen to what you have to say.
Thanks Tod. Well said. I would call this wordiness, which is really just using a lot of unnecessary words.
Here's one that I'm guilty of in emails: for some reason I always start emails with the phrase I just wanted to let you know that, and then I get to my point. So I always have to go back and rewrite my emails so I don't belittle my own sentiment and waste the reader's time. For example, I'll write, "I just wanted to let you know that I love your podcast." Ugh! Just say it: Dear Tod, I love your podcast. There's no need to sneak up on the sentence like you're trying to lasso a wild horse! I actually don't even think it's grammatically correct, or at least it's not good writing, because it uses the past tense (i.e., I just wanted) as if I wanted to tell him yesterday, but I'm writing today and, even though I'm not so sure anymore, I'll just say it anyway.
I'm sure there are other great examples I'm not thinking of, so I want to tap the audience on this one. If there's an unnecessary phrase like this that really bugs you, write in to feedback [at] quickanddirtytips.com and tell me about it. If I get more than a couple, I'll make a section compiling them on the website.
OK, since that was a short segment, we have time for another comment:
Hi Grammar Girl. Question for you: Would you be able to go into use of modifiers in a little bit more detail, use of pronouns, certain sentence constructions, and maybe some idioms. Things that get into a little more detail on sentence construction.
Thanks for the question. I'll touch on idioms today to keep the show short, and get to some of your more nitty-gritty questions very soon.
Idioms are phrases that don't mean what they literally say, but have meaning to native speakers. For example, the phrase under the weather is known by most native English speakers to mean that someone isn't feeling quite well, but if you weren't a native English speaker, you would probably have no idea what the phrase means by just looking at the words. I can just imagine some poor foreigner trying to figure out what it means to be literally under the weather. They might guess that someone is getting rained on, and who could blame them?
A lot of idioms seem to be holdovers of phrases that had a more literal meaning in the past. For example, some sources say that under the weather originates from a time when it was more common to travel by boat; and during storms seasick passengers would go below deck, where the rocking was less intense, and they were literally under the weather that was occurring above deck. However, idioms don't always have such clear historical sources, and even in this case some sources say that under the weather simply refers to the belief that bad weather can make you sick.