May 19th, 2004
Bob or I? / rhymes with orange / free gift
by Barbara Wallraff
Connie Dean, of Albany, N.Y., writes: “My manager recently wrote on the dry-erase board, ‘If you have any questions, contact Bob or I for clarification.’ I let it stay on the board for days until I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and changed it to ‘Bob or me.’ Some of the women in my department didn’t understand the difference, and a couple of them thought I was wrong. Was I?”
Goodness, no. Would anyone ever write “contact I for clarification”? Let’s hope not. Why do people think the grammar of the sentence changes when you add “Bob”? You’d write “contact me,” so “contact Bob or me” is right.
Dan Warner, of Fraser, Mich., writes, “Can you supply me with a word that rhymes with ‘orange’?”
To answer your question, I got in touch with Hilary B. Price. As the cartoonist who draws the strip “Rhymes With Orange,” she may be the world’s expert on this subject. Price told me, “Marilyn vos Savant, who writes ‘Ask Marilyn’ for Parade magazine, claims there is a word ‘sporange.’ But the word is not in my dictionary.”
Roger and Suzanne AuClair, of Rockwood, Maine, write: “What is your opinion of the phrase ‘free gift’? Isn't it redundant? We get a chuckle every time we see or hear it—which is often! Your comment, please.”
People who write ad copy seem to love this phrase. I guess their theory is it’s impossible to say “free” too many times, in too many ways. Anyone who likes expressions such as “free gift”—and “cash money” and “twelve noon” and “exact same” and “consensus of opinion” and “advance warning”—can defend them by saying that they are examples of the figure of speech known as pleonasm. But nowadays pleonasm is more often thought of as a mistake than as an intentional rhetorical device. I’m with you: I think “free gift” is silly.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.