Something about a new year (or decade) gets me focused on the English language. I’m not sure why. Normal people focus on indoor exercise and weight loss during the winter months.
I think about words and the heaviness they can cause when used in a redundant manner. Heavy phrases are like extra weight on the hips — unwanted, unwarranted and unneeded. I don’t want to come across as preachy. I realize the English language is an ominous and arduous beast. Still, when desiring to master something one must focus on the details. Shall we get started?
Let’s take the phrase “first ever.” If something is the first, it goes without saying that it is the first ever. “Ever” is a waste of four letters. It’s our first trip to the ocean, not our first ever. First, in itself, is enough by itself. Drop the ever. Forever.
The same goes for “first annual.” You can’t have an annual party or picnic or celebration if you’ve only had it once. The first event is an inaugural one, not annual (yet), even if you plan to have it for years to come. The only first annual you can technically host or have is the second annual. I’m a stickler, I know. But where is the beauty of language if not in the intricacies of the details?
Another redundancy: “once again.” Again, you can stick with “again.” We couldn’t find the car keys so went inside to look again (not once again). Save yourself five letters and one whole word and you still have the same message. Extra words are just that: extra. Cut them out like you long to cut belly fat.
Related to the above is “over again.” We had to run the race over again. No. We had to run the race over. Or, we had to run the race again. One or the other, but not both. Mantra: cut out the fat.
“Each and every.” Really? He looked at each and every Valentine card before picking the right one. “Each” or “every” take your pick, but only choose one. Did he look at each Valentine card or every Valentine card? The term “each and every” is redundant and no one wants to be redundant. It can be really, really, really annoying.
Equally aggravating, is the use of the word “choice.” When a person has to decide between two things, it’s often described as having two choices. Not true. There are two options, but only one choice. If I can pick a red or blue car, I have two options from which to pick, but only one choice to make.
Which brings us to the “could of” conundrum. I could of done this or I could of done that. Wrong and wrong. You could have. Could have. “Could” and “of” are not friends and should not be forced to stand next to one another — in the gym, on the page or anywhere else.
The same can be said for “being that.” “Being that” is not a phrase — or at least not two words that can be correctly strung together. Being that I’m sick, I’m staying home from work. It doesn’t work. When tempted to use being and that together, substitute the word, “because.” It’s as simple as (being) that.
I’ll finish up with the distinction between “that” and “who.” This one gets a little gray for me. When I write about my pets and their personalities, I’m tempted to use “who,” because they are like little people to me, but technically animals are referred to as “that.” “Who” is reserved and preferred for references to people, although “that” is okay in a pinch. The dog that ate my shoes. The man who borrowed my shoes.
While we’re chatting about “that,” the darn word can be deleted in many instances. But not always. Complicated, I know. When in doubt, read your sentence aloud both ways — with “that” and without. If no meaning is lost, delete. Two examples: 1. It’s possible that I’ll be late. 2. I whispered that I’d be late. Which needs “that?” There’s no cut and dried answer, but sentence number two (in my humble opinion) benefits from “that.” Sentence number one can do without.
And with that, I’ll step down from my soapbox and focus on more important things, like the upcoming bathing suit season and the fact that my bathroom scale will once again be used for the first ever time since last fall, being that I haven’t paid enough attention to the two choices I have of being healthy or eating junk food, which is a struggle for me each and every day.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.