Jul 24 2006
Languages evolve, yes, and sometimes they evolve in annoying but understandable ways. But sometimes they evolve in annoying but not-so-understandable ways. My current pet peeve along these lines is the evolution of “try to” (e.g., “I will try to speak correctly”) into “try and” (e.g., “I will try and speak correctly”). It’s one of those things that we barely notice, as we live in times of many contractions and much mumbling (e.g., “I’ll try’n speak c’rectly”). But this morning I heard it on CNN, from the mouth of a professional broadcaster. She said “Israeli troops have entered southern Lebanon, where they will try and cleanse the area of Hezbolla fighters.”
Aside from the questionable editorializing in the use of the word “cleanse” in this context, and aside from the fact that my pet peeve about this language issue is the smallest concern when it comes to the Middle-east right now, I cringed when she said that.
But there it was, right on television, from the mouth of a broadcaster. This error is primarily found in spoken language, but occasionally one even sees it in writing. Few people seem to object, so it’s just a matter of time before it becomes the norm.
That would be sad. One of the things that make languages work is when they make sense – whether or not we are conciously checking the logic. In this case, the use of “and” makes no logical sense.
Here’s why: when you say someone will “try to cleanse” something, it means they have a goal and are taking action towards that goal. They are making an attempt at cleansing. When you say someone will “try and cleanse” that means they will do two things: (1) they will try something (which is undefined), and (2) they will cleanse something.
That’s a whole different thing. And it makes no sense because it doesn’t explain what will be tried (cleansing is a whole other issue because it is conjuncted with “and” instead of “to”) and because it assumes in advance that the cleansing will be successful. In other words, there are two different things being discussed: trying something, and cleansing something. It’s like saying “they will eat and they will sleep.” The two are independent of each other. So “try and cleanse the area of Hezbolla fighters” means they will try something independent of cleansing the area, and they they will (not “attempt,” will) cleanse the area of Hezbolla fighters. So in other words, the CNN broadcaster is saying that the Israelis will cleanse the area – as if she has some kind of Coca-Cola-sponsored foresight that lets her know in advance that this “cleansing” will be successful.
On the other hand, the human brain has the ability to fill in gaps and to make assumptions about things. We see this with various optical illusions and other amusements where we see our minds making unconcious leaps of faith to connect dots over gaping holes in logic and information. It’s wonderful that we can do that, but should we base our language on that ability? (Disclaimer: I’m not talking about metaphorical language, or poetry, or other forms of language that purposefully unfold on those other planes of understanding – I’m just talking about straight-forward yakkity-yak.)
I’m so easily brought to boil over these things. This entire rant was brought about when I saw an ad on a Web site. It’s a Vonage ad “warning” against cable-based IP telephony. That warning is itself inherently stupid (although in this case it’s apparently just based on price), but what caught my eye was that the cable companies are going to “try and sell” me phone service. There it is in writing, folks. The cable company is going to try something (but what?) and they are going to sell me phone service. It’s not that they will attempt to sell me phone service – according to this ad they will sell me phone service, all the while trying something that no one seems to want to talk about.
So there you have it. A very long rant about a very stupid problem. Thank you for visiting the blork blog. I hope you will try and come back some time.
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