Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Whether or Not?" I Say Not to "Not," But Yes to "Whether." Just Read the Damn Post

I have a few usage hang-ups that send me up a tree. I read them, and my central nervous system orders my brain to flood my system with whatever chemical makes you really ... y'know, nutso angry.

One of those is the phrase "whether or not," which is used in common English 3.2 billion times a day. Consider it: Where's the contrast? Is there one option -- "whether" -- competing with another -- "not"? Nope. Taken literally, it's a meaningless phrase. In every single instance, just using the word "whether" is more accurate, more concise, more ... better.

STUPID: I can't tell whether or not Courtney or Derek will ever post to TOSC again.
NOT STUPID: I can't tell whether Courtney or Derek will ever post to TOSC again.
POSSIBLY EVEN LESS STUPID: I can't tell if Courtney or Derek will ever post to TOSC again.

See what I mean? The Not Stupid and Possibly Even Less Stupid sentences are just as clear (I'd argue clearer) and don't employ some meaningless phrase cribbed from vernacular speech.

At some point while writing this post, I've become very upset over "whether or not," it's such a stupid goddamn phrase. So, please, people, stop using it. Next time I see it, I'm punching James in the head.

22 Comments:

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May I direct your attention to a headline in this week's paper entitled: "StreetSignism"?

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3:32 PM  
Blogger Bad D said...

Whether it's cold or whether it's hot, we're gonna have weather, whether or not.

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Blogger Craig said...

Derek, you're an idiot.

Anon, I believe we've discussed this trend before. I owe you a post about this ...

4:18 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

I'm sorry, but you are simply wrong about this.

"Whether" is a conjunction. You cannot conjoin a single thing.

You have caught the word in the midst of linguistic evolution towards a restricted special-case usage in which the alternate of the conjoined structure is superfluous, and can be comfortably omitted. That is the case you have given in your examples. But that use is at best colloquial.

I will have to vote for Shakespeare's sense of style over yours: "see me no more, whether he be dead or no."

It is true that in each of the examples you have chosen "whether" on its own now suffices, and may now even be preferable. But you have omitted the case of a clause dependent on the result.

Compare:

Correct: "Whether it rains or not, I will still go to the beach."

Correct: "Whether or not it rains, I will still go to the beach."

Ungrammatical: "Whether it rains, I will still go to the beach."

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