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Friday, January 3, 2014

The New, Delightful Use of Because

Posted: 02 Jan 2014 08:51 PM PST
The headline over a recent article (Nov. 19, 2013) by Megan Garber in The Atlantic announces,
“English Has a New Preposition.”
The subhead expresses implied approval: Linguists are recognizing the delightful evolution of the word “because.”
Linguists may be recognizing the jocular elliptical use of because as a “delightful evolution,” but I have my suspicions that grammarians are less than enthusiastic.
The word because is used to introduce reasons. As a subordinating conjunction, its job is to join a subordinate adverbial clause to a main clause:
Mr. Wilson will not be at the awards ceremony because he has broken his leg.
Because the weather is frightful, the annual homecoming parade has been cancelled.
The phrase “because of” introduces a noun phrase or a gerund:
Because of the lateness of the hour, we decided not to stop for coffee.
Because of running late, we skipped our usual stop at the coffee shop.
A previously existing elliptical use of because is often heard in conversation, as in this example from the OED entry:
Why didn’t you leave the bottle?’ ‘Because!’ I said shortly. I wasn’t going to explain my feelings on the matter.
Linguists have dubbed the “new” use of because the “because noun” or the because+noun.” The most popular speculation about its origin is that it began as a recurring joke on Saturday Night Live.
Neal Whitman gives this example from SNL in an article called ‘Because as a Preposition”:
If you ever fall off the Sears Tower, just go real limp, because maybe you’ll look like a dummy and people will try to catch you because, hey, free dummy.
SNL fans adopted the joke with such variations as “If life gives you lemons, keep them, because, hey, free lemons.”
Whitman explains the evolution from the “hey” construction to the “because noun” construction:
Before the “hey,” we have a regular English sentence. After the “hey,” we have an extremely condensed and abbreviated thought, represented by just a noun phrase. The humor in the “free dummy” and “free lemons” sentences comes from the speaker’s assumption that all he or she needs to say is “free dummy” or “free lemons,” and naturally you, the listener can fill in all the rest. A free dummy? Heck, yeah, who wouldn’t want a free dummy? Doesn’t everybody want one? 
He points out that in the 2000s, the “because-hey” construction became popular in Internet memes. Eventually the hey dropped out, leaving only the because.
I think that long before the internet intruded into our lives, the “preposition+noun” construction could be overheard in millions of homes:
Child: Can I stay up a little longer?
Mother: No.
Child: Why?
Mother: Because.
Child: Because why?
Mother: Because, Bedtime!
Whatever its origin, the “because+noun” is in wide use in the speech of young speakers. It certainly suits the spirit of the times, with its laconic, sarcastic, and irreverent tone. And, in these grammar-challenged times, it’s extremely useful, relieving one of the labor of completing a thought.
The because+noun may become a feature of the language, but for the present, it is a nonstandard elliptical construction that doesn’t belong in formal writing.

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