bkswrites

Whatever … and a few other compounds

In compound expressions, thoughtless patterns on January 25, 2013 at 9:10 pm

No, it’s not another rant against the universal and no-longer-new retort. In fact, I’ve occasionally found it useful myself. And I didn’t actually hear the title character today, but it’s been too many days since I’ve posted, and one of the kinds of abuses I said I wouldn’t criticize nevertheless reminded me of a peeve: It’s whenever folks are afraid to let a word go out on its own. They reflexively make it take along its little sister, making a compound or phrase. It’s becoming more and more rare to hear what without its ever.

The related word that set me off was on tonight’s “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS: “Whenever his wife died, he gave it to …” No, it wasn’t about a serial widower, but a one-shot bereavement and bequeathing.

A word even more often roped into nonsense by a frequent, but not necessary, companion is whether. Yes, it needs or, but if it has another alternative or two, it doesn’t need not. So many otherwise intelligent speakers of English fall into the likes of ‘Whether or not he stays or goes.’ I even hear the not doubled up: ‘Whether or not she likes it or not.’

I’m not often criticized for terseness, but compounds are not necessarily forever. Let that what, where, and whether have their independence, or find new friends. Keep in mind what all the word parts mean, and save some of them for later.

Whatever …

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  1. See an even better making of the point at http://youtu.be/lZstwKJ8cps (Taylor Mali at SlamNation).

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