September 19th, 2007
Flied out? / try and / a whole nother
by Barbara Wallraff
Mark O’Keefe, of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., writes: “When a baseball player flies out, announcers invariably say something like ‘Last time up he flied out too.’ I believe the correct wording should be ‘He flew out.’ Your decision?”
Dear Mark: “Flew out” is appropriate for away games, except when the team took a bus.
Eric DeCarlo, of Schenectady, N.Y., writes: “I often hear or read the word ‘and’ used when I think the word ‘to’ would make more sense. For example, ‘I am going to try and get some work done tonight’ or ‘Try and see if you can go out today.’ Is it correct to use ‘and’ in these sentences?”
Dear Eric: “Try and” is informal, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, it has a good long history. In his 1926 book “Modern English Usage,” H.W. Fowler argued that it’s an example of “hendiadys” — “the expressing of a compound notion by giving its two constituents as though they were independent,” a construction that was “chiefly a poetic ornament in Greek and Latin.” That’s a bit fancy, I think. In casual conversation, “and” doesn’t bother me in “try and ...” or a few other phrases, like “look and see” or “nice and warm.” But none of these belongs in formal, crafted writing.
Brian Hagen, of Madison, Wis., writes: “Any idea as to the source of that odd phrase ‘whole ’nother (something)’? The ‘’nother’ bit could only imply ‘another.’ But ‘whole another’ not only sounds clumsy — it doesn’t make sense!”
Dear Brian: Now that I have my copy of Fowler down off the shelf, I can tell you that this rhetorical device is called “tmesis,” which means “cutting” in Latin. The idea is that “another” has been cut in two, and “whole” popped into the middle. You’re right that “whole another” doesn’t make sense — but “a whole other” does.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.