James J. Kilpatrick

The Court of Peeves, Crotchets & Irks opens its April assizes with a petition from George Allen of Charlotte, N.C. He seeks a two-part injunction, first against "seems like" and then against "help but." His motion will be granted, but not without some preliminary fussing and fuming.

On the first count, the complainant offers in evidence an article by broadcaster Ted Koppel that appeared in The New York Times in January. The renowned reporter rhetorically asks himself, "Where to begin?" He answers, "Confession of the obvious seems like a reasonable starting point." He concludes by urging network directors to aim their news programs toward the most affluent and best-educated viewers. "That would seem like a no-brainer."

Reader Allen inquires: "Why the 'like'? What good does it do? Isn't it redundant?"

The court agrees. Whether the irksome "like" is treated as an adverb, in the sense of "nearly," or as a conjunction, in the sense of "he drove like a maniac," it serves no useful purpose here. Koppel was not using "like" in a comparative sense, e.g., "My love is like a red, red rose." He was adding branch water to bourbon, the better to dilute his sentence. The court will add that the impact of his sentence could have been further strengthened by emending it to read simply, "That is a no-brainer." Less is more!

Midway in his article, Koppel voiced a lachrymose adieu: "I cannot help but see that the industry in which I have spent my entire adult life is in decline and in distress." The "cannot help but" circumlocution is of ancient vintage, but age has not improved its foppish phoniness. In one form or another the phrase smells of camphor balls. Off with its head!

Peggy Batchelder of Asheville, N.C., writes that her pet peeve is the twist that "anymore" can lend to a positive statement. She moves for its abolition and offers a personal letter in evidence: "I go downtown on Tuesdays anymore." Whether it is spelled as one word or two, the adverb has been employed in the sense of "these days" for a long time. The Dictionary of American Regional English dates it from 1859 and provides examples across the country. In Iowa, "We all use night crawlers for bait anymore." In Oklahoma, "We use a gas stove anymore." In North Carolina, "I meet so many people anymore."

The court never enjoins an impenetrable idiom. The motion to quash will be denied.

James J. Kilpatrick

James J. Kilpatrick has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism.

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