The Web Storms Into English Grammar


Credit: Department of Ohio Department Linguistics Online

As a flashback of our elementary school days, we remember that a preposition is a word which precedes a noun (or a pronoun) to show the noun’s (or the pronoun’s) relationship to another word in the sentence. The word preposition comes from the idea of being positioned before. (It is not true to say that a preposition always precedes a noun or a pronoun, but it does most of the time.)

Examples of prepositions are:  above, about, across, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, since, to, toward, through, under, until, up, upon, with and within.

For years prepositions remained more or less the same, so it was easy to remember their usage in everyday English communication.  Then some wise guy invented the Internet, and grammar began to change its structure.  English now has a new preposition, because Internet.  Linguists are recognizing the delightful evolution of the word “because.”

The word ‘because,’ in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, ‘because’ has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I’m reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I’m reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which ‘because’ lends itself.

Mainly due to the influence of the Web, there is another way to use “because.” Linguists are calling it the “prepositional-because.” Or the “because-noun.”

You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because, YouTube. You’re reading this, because procrastination. As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: ‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.”

“Because X is fashionably slangy at the moment, diffusing rapidly across communities. It has a snappy, jocular feel, with a syntactic jolt that allows long explanations to be forgone. Because time-strapped,” writes Carey on his blog.

To illustrate the new use, Carey posts hilarious examples from social media users… because Twitter.

Well here is a nice young man, Fred E. Ray Smith, running for Oklahoma state Senate, from jail, where he was taken for warrants and drunk driving and driving without a license or registration, and also he owes so much child support and his ex has a protective order out against him. We assume he is going to win, because ‘R-Oklahoma.’

If due north was good enough for that chicken’s parents and grandparents and great-great-great-great-grandparents, it’s good enough for that chicken too, damn it. But Iowa still wants to sell eggs to California, because money.

It’s a usage, in other words, that is exceptionally bloggy and aggressively casual and implicitly ironic. And also highly adaptable. Carey has unearthed instances of the “because-noun” construction with the noun in question being, among other terms, “science, math, people, art, reasons, comedy, bacon, ineptitude, fun, patriarchy, politics, school, intersectionality, and winner.”

But the formulation isn’t simply limited to nouns. Carey again:

The construction is more versatile than ‘because+noun’ suggests. Prepositional because can be yoked to verbs (Can’t talk now because cooking), adjectives (making up examples. because lazy), interjections (Because, yay!), and maybe adverbs too, though in strings like Because, honestly., the adverb is functioning more as an  exclamation. The resulting phrases are all similarly succinct and expressive.

Which is to say, the “because-noun” form is limited only to the confines of your own imagination. It can be anything you want it to be. English-speaking people are using “because” not just to explain, but also to criticize, and sensationalize, and ironize, just to name a few uses of the new preposition.

I told you English was not a piece of cake.  Now you understand why I say that English is a weird language, full of unexpected twists and turns.  That’s precisely why it’s so fascinating.  Good Day, because hungry.

6 thoughts on “The Web Storms Into English Grammar”

  1. Well, this is another formulation I don’t remember ever coming across. Clearly, there are corners of the linguistic world I don’t inhabit – and don’t intend to visit! 😉

  2. Morning Linda:

    Regardless of “correctness”, English will evolve whether we like it or not. If people use it in a certain way when they interact with each other, eventually the new usage will find its way into the academic world. “Selfie” is a good example. It’s now officially accepted by the Oxford English Dictionary.

    Expressions like LOL, brb, ty, googolize, are now part of the mainstream English-speaking population in the States. More changes are in the pipeline as we speak.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  3. I began following your blog to enjoy your pix and news of Panama; in addition, now I need it to keep up with my own native language!
    Have run across this a couple times, I suppose, but I just ignored it as more examples of the usual unintelligible internet gibberish.

    It’s one thing to accept new words into the language – I especially applaud it if the new word is more concise. But it’s quite another thing to change the very structure of the language, If you destroy too much of the foundation, it will collapse into a heap of rubble.

    I can’t say more until I see more examples. So far, it seems that, in most of the examples, the new “because-noun” merely eliminates the word “of.” Not a big enough reward to risk the breakdown of meaning.

    Would you mind if I comment on something I noticed in your blog a couple weeks ago? It was about the double-spacing between sentences, of which you said, “I could care less if they call me a……..” I think you meant to say, “I could NOT care less,,,,” – which means your level of concern for their opinion could NOT be less – it is now at zero and cannot go any lower.

    This is an extremely common mistake – in fact, I’ve heard many more folks say it the wrong way than the correct meaning. But leaving out the “not” completely changes the meaning, of course. A good example of brevity that demolishes the entire meaning! Heaven help us!!

    Keep up the good work!

    Terry W.

  4. Hi Terry:

    Thank you so much for your elaborate explanation on the incorrect expression, “I could care less…” I researched the expression, and you are absolutely correct in your statement. The absence of the word “not” completely changes the meaning of the sentence.

    This is what I found about the incorrect use of the English expression:

    “A bit of history first: the original expression, of course, was I couldn’t care less, meaning “it is impossible for me to have less interest or concern in this matter, since I am already utterly indifferent”. It is originally British. The first record of it in print I know of is in 1901, in a story published both in the Church Standard and the Sunday Magazine. It seems to have reached the US in the late 1940s and to have become popular in the latter part of that decade. The inverted form I could care less was coined in the US and is found only there. It may have begun to be used in the early 1960s, though it turns up in a written form only in 1966.”

    I picked up the error a long time ago, and nobody said it was wrong until you came along. Thanks to your comment, I will keep it in mind when I use the expression in the future. So much to learn, so little time.

    BTW, I made the correction to my blog post.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

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