Saturday, November 23, 2013

Because

There's a clever little internet usage that I noticed popping up over a year ago.  Perhaps it is older and I didn't notice.  It is a shorthand explanation that intentionally does not explain: because. As in I never considered going into nursing.  Because excretions. Or We're not vacationing there this year.  Because money. I like it, generally. Cute. Efficient.  No more explanation needed.  You should just see.

The problem with it is that the kite string can get quite long, until the kite is invisible. A long string can contribute to the humor, as the subtext "this is just obvious" gets funnier if you have to actually work it out a bit. Wear clean underwear.  Because hospital.

Or the text exchange

Come home by 10
??
Because mother.

But the longer the kite string the more territory is being skipped over, regarded as not even worthy of mentioning. Things can get ambiguous.

We should be affirming homosexuals who visit, because Bible.
We should not be affirming homosexuals who visit, because Bible.

In that instance, the declaration that no further explanation is necessary is an avoidance. Consider the statement: "He stopped going to high school to go skiing all the time. Because Switzerland." Consider the gradual changes through Because Colorado. Because Vermont. Because Maine. Because West Virginia.

I had only partly thought this through.  I had seen some FB and internet comments using this humorous shorthand that I thought were not quite fair, a vague sensing that they were leaping to conclusions or leaving out counterarguments that made the leap not so obvious as they thought.  This crystalised for me when I read the article over at the Atlantic, the stupidly-named (because tangent) America has a New Preposition, Because Internet. The central examples were all snarky comments by liberals.  Why would this be more attractive to liberals? Is this a selection bias because of who the author reads? Is it because it's a younger demographic? Or is there something about this usage that appeals to a certain personality type?  (I have trouble imagining how it could be connected to some theory of government or proposition about social justice.)

I skimmed the rest of the article.  When some interesting question comes before me, some puzzle that I can work on in my own head, I tend to fade out from the sermon, lecture, conversation, or reading I am supposed to be attending to.  Because ADHD.  Because entertainment.  Because arrogant.

I had some tentatively-worded conclusions rolling around in my brain as I sat down to write this post.  Something about getting to be hip and condescending, pretending an argument has already been made, when in fact it hasn't (as in Screwtape). I should have read to the end more attentively.The professional writer said it better.

It conveys brevity. [Stan] Carey: "It has a snappy, jocular feel, with a syntactic jolt that allows long explanations to be forgone".

But it also conveys a certain universality. When I say, for example, "The talks broke down because politics," I'm not just describing a circumstance. I'm also describing a category. I'm making grand and yet ironized claims, announcing a situation and commenting on that situation at the same time. I'm offering an explanation and rolling my eyes—and I'm able to do it with one little word.

Eye roll pre-installed. There's your answer right there.

10 comments:

james said...

I've heard it in conversations for maybe a year or so. I don't recall seeing it on the net, but my Facebook presence is faint and I haven't looked at Twitter.

Dubbahdee said...

I'm not impressed. Because I'm not.

Jim Cambias said...

It was clever the first dozen or so times I saw it, but I'm already tired of it.

Jeff said...

It strikes me as just another example of the generation-wide narcissism that afflicts Millenials. I've lost plenty of friends thanks to these sorts of intellectual shortcuts, and I doubt it has to do with humor - or even brevity - so much as ego.

Retriever said...

I haven't heard or read it until you posted. I hate Facebook, so wouldn't have seen it there. Nobody I know talks like that--frankly, if I heard someone say that I would assume they were illiterate.

Of course, I am culturally narrow, considering people who don't speak "the Kings English" to be lunks or posturing PC twits. Only exceptions? People from rural areas with rich vocabularies and metaphors and turns of phrase which (usually) turn out to be preserved relics of the person's original immigrant ancestors (i.e.: relics of 17th century English, 18th and 195h Century Scots, Irish and french).

I spent years working with impoverished city kids and urged them (without noticeable effect) to abandon sloppy dialects and phrases, at least when applying for jobs.

We all make grammatical mistakes from time to time (I received appalling teaching in English growing up overseas, but learned other languages, which somewhat counterbalanced it)

But to return to "Because". It bothers me because it smacks of laziness, it compresses much without creating anything vivid or memorable. Poets, for example, use fewer, carefully chosen words to sock one in the gut emotionally. The mysterious, unexpected, and unsettling or interesting juxtaposition of commonplace images and phrases can mine human experience and bring up diamonds (or coal, in some cases...) But to just sloppily say because?

Don't mind me, I have the flu/bronchitis so am crankier than usual...Off to work medicated so I can reassure the coworkers who would never do my work in my absence that I won't contaminate them. The double bind of sick time. Take it and you are assumed to be skiving off. Don't take it and you are Typhoid Mary. My compromise is to agree to take antibiotics that I might not for my own sake, so as not to be a public health risk. Because peer pressure. AAAGH. I would never use an expression like that.

panjoomby said...

related because: in the last 10 years among the educated a new use of "So" has popped up - e.g., during interviews: "tell us about how that historical shift happened"
"SO, when the..."
i hear it a lot on "new books in history" podcasts interviewing young academics.
the word "so" has developed this new use, beyond just meaning "therefore!"

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, it has become a placeholder while thinking. I think it goes ba a ways, actually. All languages have them, and they usually retain only some of their content. For example "I mean," or "y'know," or "like."

Retriever said...

Ah, placeholders....there's a whole new post there, AVI! How about "este" in sloppy or trendy Latin American Spanish. A very common one. I don't remember my Spanish friends growing up using it much (or my prissy Argentine friends), but in the Bad Old Days we were all admonished for using such placeholders. Except in England...If I didn't have to go finish up dinner I'd give you a list of Well Bred Young Twit's favorite delaying phrases when asked difficult questions....(Monty Python is a good source, of course).

William Newman said...

I have seen it, but only for whimsy or sarcasm. As best I can remember, every use I have seen of "X. Because Y." could be rewritten with older whimsy/sarcasm tags such as "X. Y, donchaknow?" I would indeed find it strange as shorthand for a serious argument.

Texan99 said...

I see it often, expressing sarcastic disdain for a trite and irrelevant explanatory soundbite, a pre-emptive rhetorical strike. It's very much like "Shut up, he explained." So you might say, "We have to invade X county and kill a lot of people, because democracy." It signifies "I can't even be bothered to set out the details of this spurious theory again. You all know the stupid drill."