Bristle While You Work

By Rob Kyff

January 15, 2020 3 min read

One of the occupational hazards of writing a language column (other than introducing myself and having people say, "Uh, oh. I better watch my grammar!") is being distracted by linguistic errors while trying to read newspaper stories.

Recently, for instance, I was focusing intently on a story about the New York Giants' decision to start Eli Manning as quarterback, when I reached this sentence: "Did co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch order this to try and get fans back in MetLife Stadium's seats?"

Gak! The marketing ploys of the Giants were forgotten as I cringed at the use of "try and" instead of "try to." Instead of pondering the Giants' ramping up of Manning, I was suddenly manning the ramparts to protest this illogical phrase.

"Try and get" denotes two separate actions, i.e., to try something and to get something. Technically, "to try and get fans back" means that the owners are trying to do some unspecified thing AND ALSO getting those fannies in the seats. But that's not what's meant here.

"Try and" pops up more often in spoken than in written English. After all, it's easier to say, "Just try and stop me!" than, "Just try to stop me," because the hard "t" sound of "to" interrupts the rhythm and flow.

"Try and" has become so common that many usage authorities now endorse it as a harmless casualism, even in writing. Not me. I'm still manning those ramparts. Just try and ... er, to stop me!

After being distracted from the Manning story, I sought solace by turning to a review of the film "Dark Waters," which stars my favorite actor, Mark Ruffalo, as an attorney. But then I encountered this sentence describing him: "Recently made partner, his area of specialization was defending big corporations rather than suing them."

Somehow I hadn't realized an area of specialization could become a law partner. Will I soon be receiving letters from "Corporate Law, Esq." and "Attorney Trusts and Estates"?

"No, no, no!" I winced. "Recently made partner" is intended to describe the character played by Ruffalo, but instead it seems to refer to his area of expertise.

If the sentence had read, "Recently made partner, he specialized in defending big corporations rather than suing them," I could have savored the rest of this otherwise illuminating and favorable review. Now instead of pondering "Dark Waters," I'm ruminating about the dark waters of misplaced modifiers.

Oh, well. For a language columnist, it's all in a day's murk.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: QuinceMedia at Pixabay

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