Two popular expressions entered the American colloquial lexicon about a decade ago. I first heard them both used by an evangelical from the American South. He wanted to “speak into” an issue and “love on” some people. It seems as if the first of these has escaped from the evangelical zoo and is now in the wild. The other remains in captivity. Both are barbarisms at which literate people justly recoil.
First, they are both excellent examples of the American love of intensifiers. Americans instinctively distrust standard English. It is not dynamic enough for us. It is not sufficiently affective. It lacks punch, or so we think. Thus, we add intensifiers to words to sprinkle some pizzazz and wow into our speech and writing. This comes of not appreciating the inherent richness of the the English language. It also reflects the state of the experiment we call public education.
Second, they illustrate the American habit of attempting to “punch up” words, as they used to say in the newsroom and they reflect the American habit of abusing prepositions. The verb to speak does not take the preposition into, unless one is Almighty God. One might say that he spoke into the nothingness (in nihilum) when he said, “Let there be.” Human beings, however, having been formed from the dust of the earth and animated by God, are not God and thus do not “speak into” anything. In some quarters it became fashionable to “speak to” things and we may suppose that “speak to” was not sufficiently energetic and thus became speak into. The verb to speak takes the prepositions about, to, and for: “She spoke to the Senator about his support for a bill to privatize all schools and return their funds to parents. In that she spoke for millions.” One reason we Americans, and especially evangelicals, are so attracted to artificially affective expressions, is, sadly, what we have to say is less significant than the way we have chosen to say it.
All of this is especially true of the arresting expression to love on: “I just want to love on him a bit.” This is evangelical shorthand for, “I wish to take a moment to express my appreciation for his person and work.” All of that gets condensed to love on. This expression and speak into are instances of the American habit of creating shorthand expressions. We Americans are a busy, industrious lot. That is a virtue but if one has affection for the English language, should not one be a bit more careful in the use of the language? We are great builders—so much so that apparently “infrastructure” now encompasses everything—and great inventors of shorthand expressions. The greatest of these is ok. Some expression, e.g., love on, are so compact, awkward, vague and, in today’s cultural climate, potentially confusing, that they should not be used. Within the confines of the American evangelical sub-culture(s), love on is generally understood but outside those cultures it is liable to become cause for a visit to the Human Resources office and possibly additional classes on sexual harassment.
Well chosen shorthand expressions can add color but they are not all created equal. These two creatures, love on and speak into, should be sent to the shredder.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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