Simanaitis Says

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“AND,” MISBEHAVING

I HAVE a grammatical gripe with the misbehaving word “and.”

I’m not referring to the subtlety of the serial or series comma, aka the Oxford or Harvard comma. Me? I’m a Harvard man in this regard: I like the uncluttered appearance of “this, that and the other” as opposed to “this, that, and the other.” This, though, is a matter of style and consistency, not misbehavior.

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Nor am I referring to Mrs. Grimbly’s rule of never beginning a sentence with “And.” I shall trust the likes of William Shakespeare in this regard. From As You Like It, Act II, Scene I, Duke Senior describes life in the Forest of Arden: “And this our life, exempt from public haunt,/Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks,/Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

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Jaques enjoys the Duke Senior’s Forest of Arden, As You Like It. Painting by William Hodges, 1789.

Two points here: Not surprisingly, Shakespeare is an Oxford man, not a Harvard series comma kinda guy. And more important (there! I did it myself flawlessly), he begins the sentence with “And.” By doing so, this accentuates one of the most noble aspects of the English language: its fondness for iambic pentameter. The lines are iamic, with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one; and there are five (Greek πέντε, pente) beats per line.

Loosely, di dah di dah di dah di dah di dah: “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?” This, from Marlowe’s description of Helen of Troy in Doctor Faustus.

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Indeed, my grammatical gripe is the misbehaving “and” in what might be termed the aspirational infinitive. “Try and” in place of “try to.”

The “try and” construction can be found in just about any media. Such as The New York Times, yesterday, March 19, 2016: “And the jurors had to try and make sense of it all.”

A double hit here, though I would argue that the jurors’ trying “to make sense of it all” would have made more sense. In an analogous construction, no one would write “had to hope and make sense of it all.”

Full disclosure: I sought support from Wife Dottie’s usual reference on such matters, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. A charming young woman named Kory Stamper is an Associate Editor at Merriam-Webster and has a video on this very subject.

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Kory Stamper offers wisdom on “try and” at “Ask the Editor.”

Alas, this time around I seem not to be on the side of the angels. Kory notes that “try and” has a history going back a thousand years. And who am I to differ?

On the other hand, Kory concludes with “So, should you worry about using ‘try and’? Not necessarily. But if you’re not sure, or think you might be castigated for using ‘try and,’ then try to remember to use ‘try to.’ ”

Bingo. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016

One comment on ““AND,” MISBEHAVING

  1. Mike B
    March 20, 2016

    “Try and Catch” make sense when setting up exception handling in C++, but I can’t think of many other situation where “and” would be correct with that combination.

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