Sunday, September 27, 2009

What It Is Is

An odd doublespeak has afflicted the vernacular. It began about two years ago and spread like wildfire from the underbrush to the canopy of society, popping out in the least expected places (President Obama himself on The Late Show with David Letterman). At first I ascribed it to a lingual blip, confusion between or melding of related phrases, but after catching it several dozen times, I realized it was a whole new trend.

I refer, of course, to the repetition of the verb in phrases such as “The thing is is that” and “What it is is,” usually followed by a complete sentence that is in no way modified or affected by this pointless introductory phrase. A related polysyllabic emptiness, “The reason…is because,” is likewise redundant and dispensable, but at least it doesn’t repeat itself.

Whence this stutter-step, this hiccup, this tiny echo? As a lingual blip, a slip of the tongue in extemporaneous speech, it can be explained. The speaker starts out to say “The thing is,” followed directly by the subject (“The thing is, we can’t explain it”). Halfway through, his brain decides to go for a dependent clause instead (“The thing is that we can’t explain it”), leading to the iterative “The thing is is that we can’t explain it.” But this sort of mental-shift error simply would not occur as often as I have been hearing this doublespeak.

The oddest thing about it is, the repetition sounds right, or at least okay, which by the laws of common usage would argue that it is acceptable, if inelegant. (Notice that I did not repeat the is in the preceding sentence.) But I’m not buying it. Redundancy is never good form, and pointless repetition of even a syllable is to be avoided. I can forgive this imitative pipsqueak in off-the-cuff speech, but elsewhere it is anathema.

With apologies to the Rolling Stones: Hey hey, you you, get offa my clause!

This is article 9 in a continuing series. © 2009 Christine C. Janson

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