What to Do with Prepositional "Because"
The American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year (WOTY) for 2013 was prepositional because, also known as because noun and because + noun. If you’ve been paying attention to online trends, you’ve likely seen it:
But Iowa still wants to sell eggs to California, because money.—Daily Kos (July 14, 2012)
Prepositional because deserves its WOTY status, perhaps as much because of the amount of discussion it’s trigging as because of its actual usage. A sampling:
- “English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet”
- “‘Because’ Has Become a Preposition, Because Grammar”
- “Because as a Preposition”
- “Because Reasons”
- “Because NOUN”
But should you let it stand in copy?
Before you say no too quickly, let’s think about this.
The strongest argument for eliminating the prepositional because is that it’s nonstandard English. Surely any professional publication should use only Standard English, right?
Yes, there are some types of writing in which we let some nonstandard words slide. Fiction, marketing, and blogs come to mind. Using nonstandard grammar and words in such a manuscript can help create a casual voice. It can help the author connect to readers who communicate in a more casual way.
We’d never allow such slovenliness in more formal writing, such as a news story, nonfiction book, or academic prose, though. Right?
But what about new words? Aren’t new words nonstandard until they’re accepted by some majority of language users? To be accepted, new words must be used and spread. Copyeditors influence that acceptance by keeping or cutting new words from a manuscript. If we never let new words in, authors would have a hard time writing about new concepts. Imagine if copyeditors never allowed email or any of its various incarnations into print!
Yet this isn’t a new concept, only a new way of making a point in an ungrammatical way. Grammar changes over time, too. You wasn’t always both singular and plural. If copyeditors never allowed new ways of saying something, our authors’ writing would become stale, driving readers away.
Language is going to change. We may slow progress a bit, but with so many people casually publishing online (read: not getting paid, not having their work edited, as with social media posts), our chances of stamping out any change is fairly slim.
Instead of looking at prepositional because as a grammar mistake, at this point we should be evaluating it as a new word. Enough people are using it that there’s a shared understanding of its meaning and a desire to use it. Maybe it will stick around and we’ll gain that rare specimen, a new preposition. Maybe by this time next year, it will have lost its luster (as much slang does once the old fogeys get their hands on it).
To decide whether to allow prepositional because, ask yourself the following:
- Is the author using it correctly? At its worst, prepositional because looks sloppy and lazy. At its best, it can emphasize an obvious point without going into a lot of detail.
- Will the audience understand it and accept it? Prepositional because is gaining a wider audience, but let’s face it: it still lives in the realms of slang, particularly Internet slang. Is your audience hip enough to know it? Do they accept it?
- Does the word fit the style and tone of the text? The more formal the prose, the less likely prepositional because is going to work. However, it can fit nicely into a blog post or article that appeals to the right audience.
Its inclusion in Urban Dictionary, the low number of votes (103 votes among four definitions), and the newness of the entries (one from 2010, one from 2012, and two from 2013) indicate that prepositional because lives outside Standard English. But the number of conversations surrounding the term in the last year means we can’t ignore it.
For now, the smart choice may be to use it sparingly for emphasis with a crowd that is Internet savvy or up on their slang. If the audience would bristle at its use, then copyeditors can safely cut it.