Holiday Gift Giving

December 17, 2009

For your favorite pedant, I have but one recommendation. I’ve mentioned it before, but I will keep mentioning it until even the grass stops recommending Strunk and White to writers, and starts recommending Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage.

Some people seem genuinely not to have noticed that English started as a spoken language, not one constructed from textbook grammar rules. This book goes a long way towards correcting that error.

A sample, chosen at semi-random:

try and – The use of try and in contexts where try to would be possible has been subject to criticism since the 19th century. The issue continues to enjoy great popularity, although a number of usage commentators, including Fowler 1926, Evans 1957, and Follett 1966, are on record as recognizing that try and is an established standard idiom.

The basis for objecting to try and is usually the notion that try is to be followed by the infinitive combined with the assumption that an infinitive requires to. This is the same mistaken assumption that has caused so much trouble over the so-called split infinitive (which see). In spite of what these critics believe, however, infinitives are used in many constructions without to, and some of those constructions use and.

Give the book to all your loved ones. Not to me, though; I already have a copy.

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2 Responses to “Holiday Gift Giving”

  1. Rrrobert! Says:

    Established idiom or no, “try and” is a confusing construction that thwarts the established logic of the English language. As a confusing idiom with a reasonable alternative, it ought to be relegated solely to spoken English and approximations thereof.


  2. It’s almost impossible to be confused by try and. That said, I agree that try and should be avoided in written English, but really only because of the overwhelming prescriptivist attitude that dominates English proofreading.

    If you want to appear smart, play by the rules that smart people think are important, even though the rules are BS.


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