Monday, 2 July 2012

Because reasons

because can be followed by a finite clause:
I left him because [he sold my prize-winning armadillo].
It can be followed by a prepositional phrase:
I left him because [of his unbearable stench]. 
But a non-standard usage is gaining wider and wider acceptance, namely because+noun (often a proper noun):
I can't come out tonight because Skyrim.

This isn't a straight nonstandard equivalent to the other uses - it's different. It means something like 'I'm so busy being totally absorbed by X that I don't need to explain further, and you should know about this because it's a completely valid incredibly important thing to be doing'. This page is all posts that were tagged with #because Skyrim.

But has a similar use (taken from the same Tumblr page):
Okay I’d totally love to read my dash and everything but Skyrim.
I like it.


  1. This new usage, "Because NP", has become a meme on Facebook among certain groups, usually implying that the NP is intended as a distraction from the real issue, e.g., "The current unemployment figures are a result of Obama's manipulation of the statistics because BENGHAZI."

  2. Um... Because #(Hashtag). English/Linguist (descriptivist, thank you) degree here. I read the article at The Atlantic, clicked over here to share my humble opinion, which is thus:
    I am pretty ticked off at seeing this shoehorned into "prepositional-because." These guys are obviously not musicians. It isn't in what is being said (i.e. the notes of the song) it is what is NOT being said (i.e. the rests). Because+Noun? Not! Try: because+social network. This usage has been used in my area for at least two decades, but really that was just an inferred or unspoken preposition, usually 'of.'
    "I can't go next week, because Thanksgiving."
    When social media really hit the scene, especially the hashtag of Twitter, people started using that unspoken hashtag as a means of social solidarity. In other words, 'Don't take my word for it, click the hashtag.' The hashtag was so popular that it completely rewired the way we speak, online and off, because #Twitter, you know? Drop the hashtag and you have 'Because Science' etc.
    Even if my assumption is incorrect, "prepositional-becuase" is completely bogus and inane. Why was it even thought up (and poorly at that)? Because Thesis.
    Like I mentioned before, you can't just see that a preposition is missing and ascribe prepositionality to the nearest word. 'Because' is still being used 100% properly in all these cases. It is what is not being said where lies the problem. Sorry if that is a bother for grad students to figure out, but the important part is that there is a decided LACK of prepositions. 'Because' doesn't magically fill the role just because you notice that there are no other qualified parts of speech to do so. No, call it a 'conjunctive-prepositional contraction' at the most or perhaps, just perhaps, take it for what it is: an omission of traditionally required parts of speech. Because Living Language.

    1. Hi! Thanks for you comment. I'm not sure if some of what you say is kind of railing at the wider world, because neither I nor any of the people who say it's a preposition are grad students, but I'll address a couple of points in your comment anyway.

      First, I never said 'because' was a preposition, and I'm not at all sure it is one. I'm remaining neutral as to its category until I've thought a bit more about how it works (descriptively). I wrote this post in July 2012, not as a response to recent commentary.

      I'm intrigued by your hashtag theory: how would the use of hashtags introduce 'because'? Do you mean that 'because' replaces the hashtag in speech? Then we could call it 'hashtag because' :)

  3. I listened to the interview on CBC and found it interesting but maddening at the same time. Another example of dumbing down the English language even more. I did find it surprising though that a linguist would pronounce the word "pattern" as if it were spelled "patteren" What's up with that?

    1. I didn't hear that interview, but I'm afraid that as a professional linguist, I have to disagree with your claim that it's 'dumbing down'! Dumbing down is something that I see as being imposed from an outside authority (like a school curriculum), which this of course is not, but even so, innovation in language is not dumbing down. This would only be the case if speakers somehow lost the ability to combine words into phrases, and just strang them together any old how. But this is not what we see here - it's still rule-governed phrasal syntax.

      And on your second point - I must confess I've never heard anyone pronounce 'pattern' that way. For me, as a 'non-rhotic' speaker (I don't pronounce the 'r'), it would sound like 'patten'. However, if you were rhotic, as most of the US and Canada is, you'd pronounce that 'r'. Then you might have something called 'epenthesis', which is when you insert a vowel in between two consonants to break them up. This is why you sometimes hear 'film' pronounced as 'fillum'. I'd be surprised to hear it in this context, but that would be my guess, not having heard the interview in question.

      But I'm afraid a linguist is even less likely than anyone else to pronounce words 'properly' - we describe language rather than worry about how it's 'supposed' to be used, and linguists typically delight in non-standard usage. I've heard phrases like 'a whole nother' from linguists far more than from non-linguists. So if you're looking for someone to uphold the standard, linguists are probably going to let you down :)