October 15, 2004

Usage Rant #225

by Nick Morgan

The price of having such a rich and varied language like English is the endless series of expressions so lame that they should escape First Amendment protection altogether. "I'm so there" is an easy target--fashionable, transient, and juvenile--but other more established phrases have mysteriously conned their way into mainstream acceptance. The particular expression I'd like to harp on at the moment, and then expunge from the language, is "no pun intended."

That expression is often a lie, in which case it makes the speaker boastful and self-important. It can also be an innocent falsehood in cases where the speaker (intentionally or not) has spoken nary a pun but some related form of word play. How obnoxious. But even when it's true--when the speaker honestly intended no pun--the expression "no pun intended" comes off a bit like explaining a joke or showing off one's ability to notice double meanings. Obnoxious yet again.

I can think of no situation for which the far superior phrase, "so to speak" would fail to substitute. It does the same work and spares the speaker the embarrassment of ostentation. A usage snob like me should know a thing or two about the cost of pretension.

October 15, 2004 05:03 PM | TrackBack

I hear this phrase most often in humerous situations: the double meaning is obvious, but just leaving the sentence hanging would leave it without its "punchline." Since the humor is most often low brow, I usually don't see pretension. Just my two cents.

How bout a rant on "no offense" being used to cure obvious offense?

BTW, nice to see you're alive.

Posted by: Matto Ichiban at October 15, 2004 05:49 PM

When I hear a politician (of either party) say: "The fact of the matter is ..." I pay more attention because most of the time what follows is clearly opinion. Also, there is the phrase "To be perfectly honest ..." and I expect to see Jesus as the utterer; it's tough enough being honest, but perfect?

Sometimes, the person will say "pun intended" but there seems to be lack of a connection, unless what is involved (warning, old joke coming) "two-thirds of a pun" or for those who don't get it, "un"; no, really, "pu".

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at October 17, 2004 03:30 PM
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