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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Varieties of newspeak: I am wanting

There are these strange locutions that appear apparently out of nowhere in English usage, suddenly and ubiquitously, that are not quite wrong but still jarring and weird. A few years ago, it was the identity politics-based resurgence of "folks," which I found ominous at the time, and which in fact turned out to bode poorly for our politics.

What I hear all the time now, especially from women, is "I am wanting to X." What is this? It's not quite ungrammatical, but it does not clearly fit any grammatical English tense. Is it a present simple-turned-continuous? What happened to send the clear and direct simple present "I want to" out of fashion?

Granted, this deformed locution is probably more a result of grammatical misconceptions about what constitutes sophisticated speech than a subtle indicator of political change like "folks" was, but it seems weirder than the usual misconceptions, like when people discover that the word "whom" exists but assume it's just a more sophisticated synonym for "who." Or, what Alex says has become a problem in office-speak: people thinking that "myself" is a fancy synonym for "me," and instructing their colleagues to "contact Bob or myself with any questions." I can see how, not knowing much about grammar, you could make these errors. But both the simple present and the continuous present are such common tenses that even someone who was illiterate would be completely familiar with them, so what is the appeal of combining them into a new tense construction that conveys no new meaning?

7 comments:

Alex said...

I have had colleagues who use the "present simple-turned-continuous" but they were all Eastern European, so I just assumed it was a translation of the tense they would have used in their own language. I haven't heard more people using it, but then again, I have not left the house in about 8 months.

Miss Self-Important said...

The women I come across who say this are almost certainly native English speakers. It's especially prevalent in mom groups and comment threads in mom blogs, so I think it may be associated somehow with advice-giving and the desire to express a nice-sounding tentativeness and avoid sounding imposing. Eg, someone asks for advice about baby carriers and gets a response like, "Are you wanting something structured or something more like a wrap?" Or to express a desire but not as intensely as "I WANT THIS!!!" Instead, "I am wanting a home security system but am not sure which is best."

educatedwhinge said...

I watched "folks" begin in the tiny far-left/anarchist subculture and then move to campuses and then Obama speeches. One of the strangest things about the Obama admin, for me, was how short the migration time became between my old wingnut friends and official White House communications.

educatedwhinge said...

A locution common amongst modern Orthodox students at my alma mater - that I've heard nowhere else - is "looking forward" by itself instead of "looking forward to it".

Miss Self-Important said...

Oh yeah, Obama was a major offender on the folks front.

I've seen the "looking forward" shorthand occasionally in professional communications in reference to scheduled meetings and calls. No idea why it would be especially favored by the Orthodox.

Julia said...

How about "utilize" where "use" will do? That drives me nuts.

Also: I now realize how often I use "folks." Mea culpa.

Miss Self-Important said...

Ubiquitous undergraduate writing crutch.