Saturday, August 24, 2013

Because, Because, Because, Because, Because!

Yesterday, after a good, but long, day of professional meetings, I was talking to Mr Mattson, when Dr Weaver walked in and asked us if we'd ever seen students use the phrase "being that" in their writing.  We immediately shared examples that had made us shudder or wince in the past.  I speculated that students used "being that" as a highfalutin substitute for the ordinary word "because."  (Yep.  "Highfalutin" is a real word.  You should look it up.)

What ensued was a lively discussion of certain infuriating usage quirks that quickly devolved (or, one might say, evolved), after meandering through the wastes of fragments and comma-splices and up the rocky ascent into colon-territory, to the lofty peak of the finer points of semi-colon usage.  (Unless you really want to be entertained, you should never get two English teachers talking about semi-colons!)  

Afterward, Dr Weaver did a little research and found that using "being that" as a substitute for "because" is called a "misrelated participle," a special sub-category of dangling modifiers.  Now, I would never use the phrase "misrelated participle" in class--I'd have to study up on the definition of "participle" first.  (I have used the term "dangling modifier" in class, however, because dangling modifiers, in their almost infinite variety, are so much fun to play with!)  

I fully admit I'm not a wizard when it comes to knowing all the technical terms of English grammar.  And I don't really care if you know what a participle is (yes, I really said that).  What matters to me is that you know how to write clearly and correctly, using complex sentence structures when your ideas are similarly complex.  You don't need to remember what a participle is to do that.  

You do need to know when you're letting your fear of starting a sentence with "because" get in the way of clarity and elegance.  When we are young, we are often told never to start a sentence with the word "because."  Sometimes, that lesson gets pounded into us so thoroughly that we never forget it, much less do we realize that it was a lesson with an invisible expiration date.  We ought to have been told never start a sentence with the word "because" until you're old enough to know how to do it properly! 

I'm convinced some students start sentences with the awful-sounding phrase "being that" because they know it means the same thing as "because," but they think it sounds better than "because," and it gets them past that never-forgotten, slightly-misguided injunction against using "because" at the beginning of a sentence.  

Because I'm older and wiser now, I know how to write complete sentences that begin with a subordinate clause.

Because I'm older and wiser now, I would never confuse a subordinate clause with a complete sentence.  

Because I'm older and wiser now, my teachers needn't keep telling me never to start sentences with "because."  

Because I'm older and wiser now, I'll always remember to use a comma after the subordinate clause and before the main clause in my grown-up sentences.  

Because I'm older and wiser now, I'll write clear, direct sentences that say exactly what I mean.

Because I'm older and wiser now, I know that "because" is a perfectly good word and is not to be feared or avoided.

Because I'm older and wiser now, I don't need to use atrociously awkward and pseudo-sophisticated phrases like "being that" to be cool.  

Because I'm older and wiser now, I am cool.  

So, grow up.  Be cool.  Start a sentence or two with "because," if you feel like it.  Show the world how it's done.  Boom.

(Let's see who's paying attention:  1 extra credit point to the first student in the class of 2014 who can explain in a comment how the title of this post, combined with one particular sentence in this post, constitutes an allusion.)


  1. That's pretty clever. Can I earn extra credit?

  2. These sentences are from President Obama's speech yesterday from the Lincoln Memorial, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "I Have a Dream" speech:

    "And because they kept marching, America changed."

    "Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed."

    "Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed."

    "Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes."

    "Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed."

    "Because they marched, America became more free and more fair -- not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability."

  3. It's an allusion to the Wizard of Oz. "I fully admit I'm not a wizard when it comes to knowing all the technical terms of English grammar."

    1. Yes! Kori, you got it! (And, of course, "Because, because, because, because, because! / Because of the wonderful things he does!" is the refrain to the song "We're Off to See the Wizard.")