The New, Delightful Use of Because

By Maeve Maddox

The headline over a recent article (Nov. 19, 2013) by Megan Garber in The Atlantic announces,

“English Has a New Preposition.”

The subhead expresses implied approval: Linguists are recognizing the delightful evolution of the word “because.”

Linguists may be recognizing the jocular elliptical use of because as a “delightful evolution,” but I have my suspicions that grammarians are less than enthusiastic.

The word because is used to introduce reasons. As a subordinating conjunction, its job is to join a subordinate adverbial clause to a main clause:

Mr. Wilson will not be at the awards ceremony because he has broken his leg.

Because the weather is frightful, the annual homecoming parade has been cancelled.

The phrase “because of” introduces a noun phrase or a gerund:

Because of the lateness of the hour, we decided not to stop for coffee.

Because of running late, we skipped our usual stop at the coffee shop.

A previously existing elliptical use of because is often heard in conversation, as in this example from the OED entry:

Why didn’t you leave the bottle?’ ‘Because!’ I said shortly. I wasn’t going to explain my feelings on the matter.

Linguists have dubbed the “new” use of because the “because noun” or the because+noun.” The most popular speculation about its origin is that it began as a recurring joke on Saturday Night Live.

Neal Whitman gives this example from SNL in an article called ‘Because as a Preposition”:

If you ever fall off the Sears Tower, just go real limp, because maybe you’ll look like a dummy and people will try to catch you because, hey, free dummy.

SNL fans adopted the joke with such variations as “If life gives you lemons, keep them, because, hey, free lemons.”

Whitman explains the evolution from the “hey” construction to the “because noun” construction:

Before the “hey,” we have a regular English sentence. After the “hey,” we have an extremely condensed and abbreviated thought, represented by just a noun phrase. The humor in the “free dummy” and “free lemons” sentences comes from the speaker’s assumption that all he or she needs to say is “free dummy” or “free lemons,” and naturally you, the listener can fill in all the rest. A free dummy? Heck, yeah, who wouldn’t want a free dummy? Doesn’t everybody want one? 

He points out that in the 2000s, the “because-hey” construction became popular in Internet memes. Eventually the hey dropped out, leaving only the because.

I think that long before the internet intruded into our lives, the “preposition+noun” construction could be overheard in millions of homes:

Child: Can I stay up a little longer?
Mother: No.
Child: Why?
Mother: Because.
Child: Because why?
Mother: Because, Bedtime!

Whatever its origin, the “because+noun” is in wide use in the speech of young speakers. It certainly suits the spirit of the times, with its laconic, sarcastic, and irreverent tone. And, in these grammar-challenged times, it’s extremely useful, relieving one of the labor of completing a thought.

The because+noun may become a feature of the language, but for the present, it is a nonstandard elliptical construction that doesn’t belong in formal writing.

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8 Responses to “The New, Delightful Use of Because”

  • Adam Blumer

    What I have difficulty understanding is when—and when not—to use a comma with “because.” Could you explain sometime? The guidelines in The Chicago Manual of Style seems to be far from sufficient (at least to my challenged brain). Thanks.

  • Stan Carey

    Why not link to the articles you’re quoting from?

  • Benjamin

    I saw this construction in a recent Scientific American article, and I was not too pleased.

    So your headline features a common stumbling block for me. Would adjective order dictate “delightful new” with no comma, or are these coordinating opposed to cumulative adjectives? This and the correct place of “large” or “big” often confuses me. “Bad big wolf” sounds wrong, but adjective order, as detailed in this blog, says opinion adjectives come before size adjectives.

    I know this may seem trivial, but I deal with products that have long strings of adjectives before the noun; I’m constantly trying to make sense of where they go and which ones need commas.

  • Stan Carey

    Why not link to the articles you’ve quoted from?

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Stan, somehow the link slipped out in the final version. I just added it again.

  • Fred

    That is correct. Because.

  • venqax

    Yeah…I’ve started to believe that “linguists” and lexicographers are to language what grave robbers are to archeology. They are beyond unhelpful and actively do damage. We wish they woud “delight” in something else; maybe apply their approach to language-study to the discipline of bomb defusion: Cut any wire you want to– an exploded bomb is just as defused as any other. Let’s see how that goes for them.

  • Christiana Gaudet

    I loved this so much I wrote about it!

    http://thedarkforest.com/content/grammar-cop-turns-her-badge

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