Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Words I can live without

I could not have expressed it half so well.

Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey
Through France and Italy (1768)
Two words I can live without, when they fall together: expressed that , where that introduces a subordinate clause. I am surprised to see that Garner’s Modern American Usage makes no mention of expressed that , an awkward construction that turns up again and again in the context of “school.” Try a Google search for the likely phrasing. Or consider these sentences from an imaginary board meeting:
Ms. Krabappel expressed that she has concerns about the textbook. Principal Skinner expressed that he caught Bart Simpson cheating.
In each sentence, said that would do the job. But for speakers and writers of educationese, expressed that has a clear advantage: more letters, more syllables. (Yes, Latinate v. Germanic.) Perhaps expressed also serves to invest whatever was said with a claim to sincerity and truth: she didn’t just say that she was concerned; she expressed that , &c.

One might express approval, bewilderment, concern, doubt, eagerness, fear, glee — in each case, an it, a plain old direct object, follows the verb, with the speaker or writer representing a feeling or point of view in words. The oddness of express that becomes more obvious when one uses it in the present tense:
Ms. Krabappel expresses that she has concerns about the textbook. Principal Skinner expresses that he caught Bart Simpson cheating.
Google search returns far fewer results for the present-tense construction. Hmm.

For say that to replace express that in the world of education would require a larger rethinking of what to value in speaking and writing. If it’s to be plainness and clarity, say that wins.

The evil twin of expressed that : It is felt that , which erases human agency. By whom? By whom?

More words I can live without
Bluesy , craft , &c.
Delve , -flecked , &c.
That said
Three words never to use in a poem

comments: 6

Geo-B said...

When I hear that someone has expresses something, it's like someone has communicated something. If he or she had said Bart was cheating, he or she used those words. Perhaps that speaker hemmed and hawed, spoke in a round-about way, expressed it to me without coming out and saying it directly.

Michael Leddy said...

When I’ve heard these words, they’ve always been a way of saying said that. Maybe there are more complex uses?

Elaine said...

HOw about a nice rant on how everyone from the weatherman to the news anchor is REACHING OUT jinstead of contacting querying etc.?

Michael Leddy said...

I like that phrase when I hear it on The Sopranos, and I use it in fun when I teach Iliad 9 (the embassy to Achilles, where Agamemnon is reaching out, sort of). I wonder though how it got so popular. The AT&T ad, “Reach out and touch someone”? I think you should rant about this one, Elaine.

Daughter Number Three said...

Yes, that's an annoying bit of verbal puffery. Another one I've always hated is "opined." [Shudders.]

Michael Leddy said...

I dislike that word too, except as a joke. We could set up fora about it. Fora makes me shudder too.