Other Matters: Language

This is a plea for abandonment of an irritant that infests the English language. The phrase is “if you will.” Just now on a news program, an economic spokesman for one of the US presidential candidates (which one doesn’t matter; this is not a political comment) said, “if you will” nine times in the course of a ten-minute interview. In not one of those instances did “if you will” clarify, explain or inform. It only muddied understanding and interrupted thought. I think that I’ll adopt the practice of a friend. Whenever someone he’s speaking with says, “if you will,” he interrupts with, “I won’t.”

She Literally Exploded.jpgTwo editors of The Daily Telegraph in London have corraled several hundred language misusages and obfuscations into a delightful little volume titled She Literally Exploded: The Daily Telegraph Infuriating Phrasebook. Sample entries:



 They, them, their     Instead of he, him, his/she, her. A failure of pronouns to agree with verbs is a glaring grammatical error, but is embraced to avoid specifying sex: The caller withheld their number.

Basis     Used to form a cumbersome adverbial phrase instead of an adverb: on a daily basis, instead of daily; on a voluntary basis, instead of voluntarily.

Concerns     After the stabbing, teachers’ representatives voiced concerns over classroom discipline. 



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  1. Old Baleine says

    Doug, I’m with you on this, but you really opened a can of vermicelli…
    Here’s what Fowler says:
    their, as the possessive of they, is liable, like they, to misuse as a common-sex singular. Two specimens will here suffice without further comment: But each knew the situation of their own bosom, and could not but guess at that of the other. / No one can be easy in their minds about the present conditions of examination.
    “Undoubtedly grammar rebels against their; and the reason for using it is clearly reluctance to recognize that, though the reference may be to both sexes, the right shortening of the cumbersome he or she, his or her, etc., is he or him or his
    “…at any rate the OED quotes examples from Fielding, Goldsmith, Thackeray, Bagehot, and Bernard Shaw. It also says nothing more severe of the use than that it is ‘Not favoured by grammarians’. In colloquial usage the inconvenience of having no common-sex personal pronoun in the singular has proved stronger than respect for grammarians, and the one that is available in the plural is made to serve for the singular too. But in prose their disfavour is not treated so lightly; few good modern writers would flout them so conspicuously as Fielding and Thackeray did…”
    You may be familiar with the Southern expression “y’all”, heard especially here in Texas. Y’all = you all, the second-person plural devised to distinguish it from simple “you”. It is roughly equivalent to the Irish construction “ye”.
    Are y’all with me?
    Some years ago, a perennial politician, while serving as Mayor, was conducting the weekly City Council meeting. I was listening to a radio broadcast when I heard her say, “Have y’all got yer’all’s presentation ready?”