David M. Brown's Blog

May 27, 2010

Banned: “reaching out for comment” and “advocating for”

How do certain locutions, or circumlocutions, gain currency? The verb “advocate,” in the sense of advocating a position or a doctrine or that there be a curfew at nine, is a transitive verb. (It is a “transitive verb,” one dictionary instructs; it is “used with object,” avers another.) You might advocate on behalf of someone, as a representative of that someone for whom you advocating. But although you might “argue for” a position as well as argue it, you don’t “advocate for” a position that you are advocating. You just advocate the position.

It’s like throwing a ball. You don’t throw for the ball, as if you were the ball’s lawyer. You just throw the friggin’ ball. Certain verbs express a subject’s action in such a way that that action is immediately and gratefully accepted by an object, a direct object.

What is gained, except a certain enbogging pretentiousness, by mewling about how “The group advocates for cleaner steets” instead of “The group advocates cleaner streets,” when up until now the standard transitive use of “advocate” has been completely clear and serviceable? What special benefit can be derived from recasting the idiom by detaching the verb from its object (except perhaps to suggest, if I may speculate, that whatever one might be advocating is appreciably less important and germane than the process of advocacy as such, of being-devoted-to-a-cause regardless of the cause, so that, say, “advocating for” slavery is on a kind of moral-sociological par with “advocating for” freedom)? One might as well burble about how the sanitation engineers are “cleaning for” the streets instead of just cleaning the damn streets. Should we, then, “make for” a law that since transitive verbs and direct objects are now deemed to be too brutally straightforward, citizens may no longer “employ for” them? (By “make for a law,” I mean je ne sais quois. By “employ for them” I mean, of course, hiring secretaries and butlers for parts of speech.)

Also, enough with the “reaching out for comment,” the malphonic euphemism being increasingly uttered by reporters who have failed to get a comment. For example, this from Newsweek: “We’ve reached out to the DSCC for comment, but it hasn’t been able to get back to us yet.”

Reached out? Reached out? Is this like a business rival, estranged lover, or Israeli or Palestinian gamely seeking to establish a line of communication? And what’s this “hasn’t been able to get back to us yet” baloney? Was the headquarters of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee flooded? Did the reporter call one minute before close of business and get a busy signal? Whatever happened to “could not be reached for comment,” “did not return our call/email/text message,” “the asshole hung up on me,” etc.? No, you don’t “reach out” for comment, you “try to reach” someone, or you “ask for” a comment. “Can you comment? I’m reaching out to you here! Don’t turn me away, I beg of you! Remember how it was between us in the old days? Hello? Hello?”

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