Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Too many buts.

I've been noticing people's buts a lot. I'm not sure whether misused buts are on the rise, or whether I am just noticing them more recently. I started paying attention to buts when I realized I was misreading sentences from bloggers and my students, who often use the word "but" when they mean the word "and."

Then I started noticing the issue all over the place. For instance, in this adorable article about twin valedictorians, an English professor is quoted as saying, “They are the hardest-working students I have met. They are incredibly intelligent but they couple that with a great work ethic. Every assignment they turned in I knew was their best work” (emphasis mine). Now, I know the professor probably meant, "They are incredibly intelligent, yes, but what really allows them to excel is not only their intelligence but also their great work ethic." As the sentence stands, however, it looks like their intelligence is countered by the work ethic. Wouldn't it work at least as well to say "They are incredibly intelligent and they couple that with a great work ethic" instead?

So far, I bet this just sounds like a linguistic pet peeve. But* I think the idea of choosing between and and but actually has further implications.

  • Think about the improv game "yes, and" that teaches improv actors to accept and participate rather than control a scene.
  • Or think about the Adulting postStep 289: When saying something difficult to someone you love, use ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ in which the blogger points out the inherent differences between saying "I love you but you need to respect my boundaries" and "I love you and you need to respect my boundaries."
  • Or think about when the deli Lansky's was vandalized and the Post misquoted one of the owners. As discussed on the blog My Upper West, the Post wrote that he had said “I’m an Italian-American from Brooklyn, but if I was Jewish, I’d be deeply offended,” while the video recording of his statement makes it clear that he actually said “I’m Italian-American from Brooklyn and I was greatly offended by it.”

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, think about your buts. I'm thinking about mine.

*That one was on purpose. The word "and" would not work in its stead.

Nota Bene: One more week to weigh in on what my next project will be! 

1 comment:

  1. I also see this frequently and I find it baffling. It says almost the opposite of what the user likely intended.