Friday, January 07, 2005

What exactly is the thing?

An odd stutter seems to come over people when they refer to The Thing. Not Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four, with whom they seem to have few if any grammatical problems, especially around Clobberin' Time, but the one in sentences beginning "The thing is".

Not, you might think, the most complex construction. You have a thing. It either is something, or it isn't. If it happens to be a banana, for example, then the thing is a banana. Nothing complicated about that.

So why do we keep hearing "the thing is is the train was late"? Clearly the train being late is identified as the thing. That is what the thing is. One thing is the other. So what in the name of all that's holy is is the second "is" doing there? When people try to write this down, they struggle to rationalise it, resulting in "the thing is, is" and even "the thing-is is". This is because they are twats.


Tony Andrews said...

I am so glad you wrote about this, because it has been irritating me for several months now, too. In fact, the whole business seems to have started spontaneously within the last year.

It isn't only "the thing" that suffers either: "the problem", "the fact", "the reason" and so on all seem to gather an extra "is" these days. Even our own esteemed Prime Minister does it at press conferences ("well, you know... the thing is... is that we can't..."). Then again, perhaps he does it deliberately to make himself sound more in tune with the proletariat?

Phantom Nitpicker said...

Tragically, the Nitpickers' Charter prevents me from calling the British Prime Minister a twat.

Anonymous said...

I hate to nitpick the nitpicker, but where's the verb in the first sentence of your second paragraph?

"Not, you might think, the most complex construction."

Get rid of the sentence within the "sentence" and you're left with "Not the most complex construction". Ewww!

Don Lewis said...

I have lost both weight and sleep over this issue. Thank you for highlighting this evil menace.