‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar

If the title of this post made perfect sense to you, then you’re way ahead of me. But just in case, we’d best recap. Neal Whitman wrote a good article at Grammar Girl recently on the possible origins of because as a standalone preposition. This helpful passage from Whitman sets out the context:

In Standard English, the word “because” can be used two ways. One of them is to introduce a clause, as in “Aardvark was late because he was waiting for the repairman to show up.” Used this way, “because” is a subordinating conjunction. The other is to team up with “of” to form what’s called a compound preposition. For example, “Aardvark was late because of heavy traffic.” In the past three or four years, though, a new usage for “because” has been developing.

The new usage – older than 3–4 years, mind – is what Laura Bailey and Mark Liberman, respectively, have referred to as “because+noun” and “because NOUN”. Liberman says the idiom usually seems to imply “that the referenced line of reasoning is weak”. Sometimes, yes, but it’s also commonly used just for convenience, or effect: No work tomorrow because holidays!; Of course evolution is true, because science.

Because X is fashionably slangy at the moment, diffusing rapidly across communities. It has a snappy, jocular feel, with a syntactic jolt that allows long explanations to be forgone. Because time-strapped. Maybe the causal factor is so obvious as to need no elaboration, or the speaker is distracted or giddy, or online and eager to save effort and move on, or maybe the construction appeals for undefined aesthetic or social reasons.

Gretchen McCulloch, at All Things Linguistic, points out that there seem to be restrictions on what kind of noun phrases can occur here. Providing examples of what works and doesn’t work for her (e.g., Yes to: I can’t come out tonight because homework/essays; No to: I can’t come out tonight because lots of homework/this essay), she concludes:

it seems like the because+noun construction really must consist of a bare noun, not a noun with a determiner or an adjective. However, I think I might be able to be okay with:

? I can never get to bed at a reasonable hour because interesting people on the internet!

With new usages, as with old ones, what works or doesn’t varies from person to person. Bare nouns certainly seem more common in the X slot, and tend to carry more emphasis, but I’ve seen longer noun phrases, and other classes of words, used too; there are examples below.

The construction is more versatile than “because+noun” suggests. This because can be yoked to verbs (Can’t talk now because cooking), adjectives (making up examples because lazy), interjections (Because yay!), and maybe adverbs too, though in strings like Because honestly., the adverb is functioning more as an exclamation. The resulting phrases are all similarly succinct and expressive.

Here are some examples from Twitter, categorised by grammatical class:

Nouns, noun phrases, proper nouns:

(Feels in the last tweet is a popular slang abbreviation of feelings, especially in the sense of strong or overwhelming emotion.)

Verbs:

Adjectives:

Interjections:

*

why upside down because race car meme

On Language Log I left a comment (before I’d checked) suggesting the usage could’ve come from the “because race car” meme of 2011. But corpus searches show examples from years before that. GloWbE has loads, with many of the noun phrases recurring – science, math, people, art, reasons, comedy, baconineptitude, fun, patriarchy, politics, school, intersectionality, and winner all show up at least twice in the X slot.

Scanning COHA and COCA for similar constructions, I found examples from ABC’s This Week, 2012: “I’m supporting the Patriots because Patriots.”; CNN’s Larry King Show, 2001: “And of course, that was last thing in the world she would do because publicity.” (though the omission of a definite article makes me wonder if it was poorly transcribed); and NBC’s Dateline, 2005:

I definitely kind of viewed him as a suspect.

Why?

Well, because motive.

Fox News Sunday, 15 years ago, has: “And Primary Colors I think has hit the country like a dud, because behavior. It’s not inspiring.” But I’m not sure: it may be more like “because behaviour, it’s not inspiring”, where the noun is fronted and the grammar, though loose, doesn’t use the prepositional because we’re looking at. Ditto this from Ebony, 2007: “People die of heart attacks and strokes because diabetes. It is one of the more underlisted causes of death…”

Written examples of prepositional because aren’t rare, but they’re pretty much unheard of in edited text, except where it’s reported speech. COCA offers the following, from the Roeper Review, 1996: “But motivation alone does not assure success: ‘Because circumstances. I was just lucky, really…’”

There’s also an old and standard construction that’s superficially very similar to prepositional because. The last time I remember seeing it was in Final Cut, Steven Bach’s book on the making of Heaven’s Gate:

It was pointed out that there seemed to be plenty of time for endless reexamination of footage or for monomaniacal reworking of technical processes, but those all were justified in the name of Art, while seeing how the picture played before an audience was both pointless, because Cimino knew how it would play, and ignoble because a question of mere Commerce.

It’s different, though, because elliptical. Bach’s “ignoble because a question…” is a grammatical elision of “ignoble because it was a question…”. Our non-standard idiom, by contrast, isn’t eliding particular words – it’s substituting for a whole, possibly vague, train of thought, and could take the form “because Commerce(!)”. Bach’s couldn’t.

[Analogous examples, from Time magazine, 1929: “Professor Einstein holds that perception is generally false because relative.”; and Michele Vialet, 2002: “The price for failing to heed this warning and do justice to the fundamental polyphony of any society is a second outburst of violence, more extreme than the first occurrence because self-annihilating.”]

But back to novel because X. Where did it come from? No one is quite sure. Neal Whitman agrees with Language Log commenters who think it could be from “Because hey”–type sentences (If life gives you lemons, keep them, because, hey, free lemons), where hey functions “like an adaptor, letting you shift from the ordinary speech register to this casual and condensed register”. And then people started dropping the hey.

xkcd comic on cancer, Two Years, with 'but [noun]' constructionIt’s not always hey, either: take this line from the linguistically trend-setting Buffy, season 5 (January 2001): “I don’t even get how we made that guy, because, wow, advanced!” There may also be forerunners in child–parent exchanges like “Why? That’s the why” and “Why? Because.”; and in the popular insults “Because shut up” and “Because fuck you, that’s why.”

However it arose, it seems to be spreading. Language loves economy, and the sheer efficiency of this use of because is likely boosting its popularity. Similar constructions are occurring with but, also, so, thus and similar words – see the frame from xkcd, above. And in the Language Log thread (which is worth reading in full), Rod Johnson says a friend “ended a litany of miscellaneous complaints with ‘In conclusion, STUFF.’” All these syntactic compressions may be reinforcing each other.

I’ve used the construction myself, though not often. On Twitter a year ago I was asked if there’s a “male equivalent of feminist”, and because of the medium’s spatial limitations (and because I was impulsively drawn to the unorthodox syntax) I said: “No precise equivalent, because patriarchy, but ‘masculist’/’masculinist’ is closest. Interpretations of it vary a lot.”

Is prepositional-because grammatical? Sure. Not in Standard English, of course. But lots of people are using it in a systematic and semantically transparent way. It has obvious appeal in a range of informal contexts, though whether it manages ultimately to insinuate itself into more formally acceptable usage remains to be seen.

You needn’t use or like this usage of because, and you might even find it annoying, but there’s nothing linguistically problematic about it. Because grammar weirds, because language.

*

Updates:

Following up on this post, Megan Garber at the Atlantic (“English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet”) describes the construction as “exceptionally bloggy and aggressively casual and implicitly ironic. And also highly adaptable.” She notes the significant role of the internet in its development and dissemination, and speculates on its origins.

Gretchen McCulloch has also returned to it at All Things Linguistic (“Where ‘because noun’ probably came from”), delving further into the grammaticality of different forms of because X and suggesting a different origin story from the because-hey hypothesis.

There’s more coverage at Neatorama, Daily Dot, CBS News, Boing Boing, and the Russian site Lenta.ru. Coverage elsewhere (Business Insider, Mashable et al.) mostly repeats the Atlantic story, but I’ll add useful links here as they happen.)

My post’s title may be a bit misleading, and I regret that. I wanted it to include the because X construction, but I ended up sounding too emphatic: because‘s prepositional nature here is not certain. CGEL apparently considers it one even in its traditional roles, but other language commentators disagree. See the comments for discussion.

On Twitter, Jonathan Lipps offers the example “Unfortunately, [noun phrase]“, and suggests that it’s not so much about because changing as it is the generalisation of “[noun-phrase]-as-elided-clause”.

Joining the preposition camp is Joe at Mr. Verb, who  notes that because originates as a prepositional phrase (by cause), and finds the new usage “has a pretty classic distribution of a preposition [...] and the semantics are not weird for a preposition”. He also raises interesting questions from the point of view of historical linguistics.

Cognitive psychologist Jessica Love has a fascinating post at the American Scholar on the appeal of ungrammatical trends and memes, including “because X”, lolspeak, doge, etc. She writes:

Many of us—especially younger generations—seem to take special pleasure in wordplay that upends standard grammatical conventions. But why? According to one psychological theory, humor is fundamentally about detecting something that violates our expectations, but in a nonthreatening way. . . . Given grammar’s relatively low stakes, then, it is fodder for immediate humor.

I left a comment on Jessica’s post, and hope to revisit the subject here before long.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan briefly covers the discussion at The Dish: Because Linguistics.

Update season 2:

The American Dialect Society has named because its 2013 Word of the Year (I called it in December) prompting renewed discussion of the word’s precise grammatical role in the because X construction. A very helpful post at All Things Linguistic makes a persuasive case that this novel becauseisn’t a preposition (but is actually cooler)“.

At Language Log, Geoffrey Pullum takes polite but firm issue with McCulloch’s interpretation, in a post on the promiscuity of prepositions: “the mistake of trusting a standard dictionary definition of ‘preposition’ has misled All Things Linguistic (and even Stan Carey to some extent), just like it misleads everyone else.”

Linguist Neal Whitman revisits the grammar of because in both its new and traditional uses, at Visual Thesaurus: “So yes, because is a preposition, but not on account of this new usage. But there’s still the question of exactly what kind of complement this particular prepositional flavor of because takes.”

Tyler Schnoebelen at the Idibon blog has done some serious number-crunching on this, analysing twenty-something thousand tweets for patterns of because X (the top X? Yolo). For stats, laughs, and useful academic links, read his post ‘Innovating because innovation.’

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122 Responses to ‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar

  1. Harry Lake says:

    I’m not even going to dignify this with a comment.

  2. Claire Stokes says:

    I don’t like it. To me it’s on a level with (or even slightly below) the whole ‘can haz cheesburger’ thing, which I can tolerate (and even be amused by) in certain moods, but otherwise it bothers me.
    At my gloomiest, I would draw lines between because-noun and a certain attitude that defies rationality, logic, learning of any kind, and anything else that stands in the way of one’s ability to hold the crazy/destructive/superficial/dysfunctional mindsets that can be directly linked to many of today’s ills. Yuck.

  3. Francesca says:

    I agree with, and like the use of, everything you’ve said about the prepositional because. Like you said, it’s fashionable now but rarely used in edited text. I’m wondering what you (and others) think about future development of because+NOUN. It will certainly become part of first-person narrated edited texts for culturally-accurate representations of the narrator, especially among young adult literature. However, I doubt that this will become a grammatically correct part of speech in non-colloquial literature. What do you think? Is it grammatically correct enough to become acceptable in academic writing someday?

    • Gabriel Rainwater says:

      I’m not sure how culturally accurate it would be to write narration using the prepositional because. I use it with my friends, but it is never a part of my thought process, because the construction is, as Carey says, logically vague. In all situations in which I have heard it, the logic of because+bare noun has been purely juxtapositional, and so it isn’t useful for me except in informal conversation. First-person narration is often conversational, but in cases where it isn’t, use of the prepositional because would diminish the authenticity of the book for me.

      Partly because of this, I don’t believe academia will ever accept because + bare noun. As we all learned in high school, the bread-and-butter of academic tone is specificity, so words like “get” and “great” (meaning anything other than “big”) are not used. Similarly, if peer review cannot understand at a glance the exact nature of the causality expressed by a given instance of because, then the credibility of the paper will suffer. However, other constructions, like because + adjective + noun have the potential to be more specific. For example, one could say, “Claudius stayed alive as long as he did because indecisive Hamlet,” shortened from “…because of Hamlet’s indecision.” The fact that this example doesn’t do much to condense the original notwithstanding, it does retain all its specificity.

  4. alexmccrae1546 says:

    These dissonant (at least to my ear), somewhat stilted “because+noun” constructions immediately had me conjuring up the halting Tarzan-speak from those early Johnny Weismiller*-as-the-ape-man movies, w/ perhaps his most memorable line, “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” (Perhaps more akin to pidgin English, than any other hybrid speech form.)

    I’m wondering if this particular linguistic phenomenon’s apparent rise in common parlance in recent years could be related to our increased use of, and reliance on texting via smart-phone, or iPad; where economy of verbiage, and the use of shortcuts and familiar code words (OMG, LOL, IMHO etc.) has become de rigueur for most users?

    Interesting that the ubiquitous use of the word “like” characteristic of ’70s-”80s Valley Girl-speak, in effect, unwittingly attenuates their face-to-face, or phone conversation, not shortening it. Like what’s up w/ that?

    I’m guessing that in their smartphone communications**, Valley girls-of-old would likely, like… eliminate the extraneous “likes” as they texted… totally. Or, maybe not?

    *I think I thoroughly botched up the spelling of our former Olympic champion-swimmer-turned-actor’s last name. Because wrong.

    **I’m obviously hypothesizing here, as back in the Valley Girl-speak era, smart-phones didn’t exist. But fun to speculate, nonetheless.

    • Roger says:

      Re TGIF &c: that’s a means of expression so old as to show as one of the origins of OK. Real estate listings have done the same kind of thing forever.

    • Gabriel Rainwater says:

      I believe the use of omg, lol, etc. came less from smartphones than from pre-thumb-keyboard dumbphones. Texting on a numeric keypad involved hitting a key a certain number of times to cycle through the letters associated with that key until you reached the letter you wanted. If you wanted to type the same letter twice in a row, or type a letter associated with the same number as the letter immediately before it, you would have had to wait through the button’s refractory period, so that it knew you were on the next letter and weren’t just deciding at length what the previous letter should be. In many cases, reducing the typing time of a phrase meant eliminating these repetitions, e.g. “lauGHIng oUT loud” became “lol”, “NO PRoblem” bacame “np.” Many of these shortcuts stuck around as we moved on to smartphones.

      • Random DriveBy says:

        ‘Fraid not; the first SMSes, like Twitter, were restricted to 140 characters. As each message cost money, Twitter’s [1/x] construction was out, and parsimony in letters used became the cardinal virtue. Thus sentences like “Y r u so clumsy, lol”
        Most dumbphones’ refractory period could be escaped by pressing an arrow key.

        LOL itself didn’t evolve in SMS, but SMS spread it widely. It likely first appeared in BBS/IRC chatrooms; where being a slow typer meant lagging the conversation. Eliminating letters is a cheap way of picking up typing speed.

      • Wyatt says:

        Aside from the SMS length limit (that’s 140 _octets_! ;) ), Random DriveBy is correct: SMS barely even existed by the dates attributed for e.g. lol, omg, and rofl. (per etymonline). It didn’t really become usable by many consumers until the mid-late ’90s.

        (As it happens, those abbreviations are interesting in their own right: next time you’re looking at a text, keep an eye out for the backchannel form!)

  5. sesquiotic says:

    My sense of the “because [noun]” form is that it is presenting the noun as a substitute for an inflected phrase – that is, instead of a complete coherent subject-predicate clause even such as “science exists” or “there are cats” it is making use of the single-utterance deictic presentation of a noun, which is sometimes used in place of a sentence independently, accompanied with or in place of an indicating gesture. Another usage that is similar and boosts this conjecture is “Because why not” (as in “I bought a bottle of it because why not”). In this case, “Why not?” is not a proper clause, but when it is used by itself it functions as one. The usage deliberately flouts standard grammar – indeed, just as it is meant to indicate a leap in logic, it makes a leap in grammar from a clause introducer to a noun functioning in place of a full clause. If this is what’s going on, then this form relies on “because” retaining its subordinating conjunction role.

    That said, I could certainly see it leading to “because” being used as a preposition. But it’s not how I took it to be used when it appeared and how it still seems to be used much of the time now.

  6. Roger says:

    Re because + noun: it’s the sort of thing that used to go by the name ellipsis; or fancier: enthymeme — the reader fills in what’s missing
    or not quite tweeted.

  7. Roger says:

    /agree/, solo: A certain news organization uses /agree/ transitively without /to/, /on/, /upon/, as in “The two sides have agreed a deal that . . .”; “X and Y have agreed a plan regarding . . .” (etc.).
    Only in one news org’s newscasts, which it presumably improves. The Oxford Collocational has nothing on it. I never hear or read it anywhere else.

  8. Roger says:

    In “Legend”, a short film from the *NFB (Canada) 1970, in which the legend is native North American, a character expresses her frustration by delivering a standalone “Because!” when challenged as to motive. “Because!” is in everyday use too, or used to be.
    (*”Legend” was a good little film, hippie, shimmering, psychedelic,
    slightly horrific; likely out of circulation by now.)

  9. Stan says:

    Claire: Lolspeak has had remarkable staying power, and because X might do even better, given time, because it’s just one (very handy) construction. Or maybe not. I’ve seen it used to bypass logic and rational argument, but the idiom itself isn’t responsible for that manoeuvre.

    Francesca: I’m sure it’s already being used in self-published books, and maybe traditionally published ones too, particularly in dialogue or (as you say) in first-person narration. I don’t know if it will become acceptable in academic writing – there would be strong resistance to it – but it’s possible, as suggested by this example of thus being used in much the same way.

    Alex: The dissonance is inevitable at first. But if you keep seeing the construction (as I do, especially online), you get used to it. You may be right that its rise is related to our increased use of digital communication, given how strongly that can motivate brevity and economy.

    James: That’s a useful analysis. “Prepositional because” seemed a reasonably accurate summary of its function, and more accurate than “because NOUN” and similar terms given the breadth of its usage, but I’ll keep an open mind about it and leave it to the trained linguists to decide or debate exactly what’s going on with the construction grammatically.

    Roger: I avoided calling it ellipsis because I wanted to contrast it with the older, standard construction that’s more concretely elliptical (see the last indented paragraph in the post). The standalone use of Because! is still common, in my experience; I mentioned it earlier in the context of child–parent exchanges, but of course it’s not limited to those. Legend sounds interesting. I’ll look out for it.

  10. I agree with James/sesquiotic. This construction seems to get its rhetorical force from the substitution of a single word for a whole clause, whether the single word is a noun or something else. Prepositions are characterized by taking nominal complements, whether single words or not. So, while I think the usage is interesting, I wouldn’t call “because” a preposition.

  11. Thanks for digging into this phenomenon, Stan. This may become something we have to accept down the road, but I hope not because clarity.

  12. Neal Whitman says:

    Thanks for the compliment and the additional research. Since I wrote that GG piece, I’ve noticed my son uses “because NOUN” a lot. Just tonight he said that someone had quit the school orchestra “because basketball.” It sounded so fluent and normal that I couldn’t quite hear if he’d used an “of” or not, so I asked, “Did you say ‘because of basketball’ or ‘because basketball’?” He said, “‘Because basketball,’ and I *knew* you were going to ask about that!”

  13. I’d say that prototypically, the difference between “because of noun” and “because noun” is that the latter draws attention to the connotations of the noun in a broader way. It’s as though the sentence were followed by an invisible “And you know what that’s like”, or “And you know how I feel about that“, or similar.

    • Also, as for whether because is a preposition — the question is, of course, moot if one accepts the Cambridge Grammar definition of a preposition, since in that case, because is always a preposition, even in the conventional usage.

  14. Jason Cullen says:

    The Cambridge Grammar of English re-analyzes all subordinating conjunctions as prepositions. We just have three kinds of prepositions: prepositions that only take NPs as complements, prepositions that only take clauses as complements, and prepositions that can take both. It looks like one preposition, ‘because’, has simply expanded its range.

  15. Willard Egotron says:

    I love this construction. Informal, intuitive, and intimate. It is also playful and flirty at the same time. Economy wins.

  16. Adrian, the invisible “and you know what that’s like” example is dead on. That’s exactly the connotation I think people are getting at when they use because+noun. Most may be implying that subconsciously now too, considering that most non-linguists tend to not critically analyse their own speech.

  17. Nina Gmz says:

    In speech this because almost always signifies quotey fingers and works as a Fill in the Blank/Insert Reason Here. Quotey fingers, altered voices and expressions go with it so it is indicated by body language that one is not speaking a complete sentence but giving a Canned Reason. Rather like the way I capitalized Canned Reason.

    In speech its often used when a question has an “obvious” and commonly known answer and a longer form would be like if your spouse asks why you are so sleepy and you respond “Why am I tired? Oh I don’t know because A. Old age b. I spend all my time working out c.I have a newborn baby? It is because c. I have a newborn baby, what do you think?”
    The truncated form is would be,”Why am I tired? Because-NEWBORN?”
    Also see SNL Church Lady and Oh I dont know….Satan?

    • Neal Whitman says:

      This is true for “because NOUN” in its earlier usage. But now, though, you don’t hear that pause and the altered voice. When my son and his peers say it, it’s completely ordinary inflection … such that I had to ask whether he’d said “because” or “because of”, as I reported in the earlier comment.
      I also disagree with the ellipsis analysis, because in this construction, all kinds of content could be left unsaid. Typically in ellipsis, the unsaid material is recoverable from things elsewhere in the utterance or immediate dialogue; for example, “Do you want the red pill or the blue [pill]?”

  18. Ninaa says:

    Sorry for bothering you again, but I’ve got another question that is not related to this topic but I haven’t found another one more appropriated in this bolg.

    When I have this sentence: “Genetic engineering will threaten the earth’s biodiversity if we don’t control it” and I want to re-write it begginig the new one with unless, can it be:

    “Unless we control it, genetic engineering will threaten the earth’s biodiversity” ??

    thank you!

  19. Adam says:

    I actually like this particular new grammar construction, because simplicity. However, if a student uses it in a paper, I’m still marking it down, because standards.

  20. Stan says:

    Many thanks for your comments, here and elsewhere. It’s no surprise the construction is so polarising, though the majority I’ve heard from have been neutral to positive about it, regardless of whether they’ve used it themselves or ever intend to.

    Some linguists say because is not a preposition, some say it’s already a preposition, and some say it behaves as one in this new usage. So the jury is out on that issue, pending a thorough scholarly analysis.

    “Because X” also seems to be one of those contagious locutions that, so long as you don’t instinctively dislike it, makes you want to use it after you’ve been reading about it, or seeing examples of it. Because mimicry.

  21. Caleb Boone says:

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

    This and countless other new expressions, informalities and slang should not be allowed.

    Sadly, prohibiting them would be more difficult than convincing a pig, in English, to be clean.

    Have a Dovely.

    Sincerely yours,
    Caleb Boone.

  22. Catbus says:

    I enjoy this construction, but I don’t think it’s a case of using “because” as a preposition. I think it’s a case of using nouns, noun phrases and other expressions after “because” as if they were entire clauses. The joke is that in a single word or phrase, you’ve summed up an entire thought and all the associations that come with it, e.g., “because science” really means “because science is valuable and important and authoritative, and there exist countless yahoos who fail to grasp that.”

  23. […] The construction is more versatile than “because+noun” suggests. Prepositional because can be yoked to verbs (Can’t talk now because cooking), adjectives (making up examples because lazy), interjections (Because yay!), and maybe adverbs too, though in strings like Because honestly., the adverb is functioning more as an exclamation. The resulting phrases are all similarly succinct and expressive. –Sentence first. […]

  24. […] Linguists and linguaphiles are embracing the use of “because” as a preposition. Traditionally, “because” functions as a conjunction, […]

  25. I wrote some longer commentary on why I think “because noun”/”because x” is actually from “I want this because of reasons” here: http://allthingslinguistic.com/post/67507311833/where-because-noun-probably-came-from

  26. The oldest usage of this construction is probably the phrase “because f-ck you, that’s why”. Examples can be found using google that stretch back to 2001.

  27. tanarg says:

    I think it’s quite doubtful that this ugly construction is being adopted by adult English speakers. I reject the notion that it is widely used.

  28. Stan says:

    Catbus: You may be right.

    Gretchen: Thanks! I’ve left a comment, and updated my own post.

    Isaac: Possibly. I mentioned this as a potential source. There are also examples of “because [noun]” going back at least that far.

    tanarg: Ugly to some, but not to others. I can assure you (based on what I see on Twitter and Tumblr and in other online communities) that it’s being used every day by adults of various ages and backgrounds around the world, though it hasn’t gone fully mainstream yet, and might never.

  29. […] с машиной, как отмечается в публикациях The Atlantic и в записилингвиста и писателя Стэна Кари в его блоге Sentence first, […]

  30. Yasha says:

    In case you’re interested, I know of one instance of this construction (“Why? Because science, that’s why!”) from a 1997 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

  31. Clay says:

    One way to look at this: by substituting a single noun for an actual explanation, the speaker is humorously saying “I don’t need to bother explaining; just one word is enough!” It implies that the single word carries so much weight as to make the explanation obvious or unnecessary.

    It can also be used to mock someone else’s argument (for being overly simplistic or feeble-minded) by restating it in this form. The message here is “my opponent feels this one word serves as an explanation when it is clearly inadequate”.

    But that’s not all there is to it. It also seems to be used for humour as a form of baby/cheezburger-speak, and also just as a convenient shorthand…

  32. This is fascinating. I find the usage intriguing. Heck, I may even use it myself one day. However, I don’t see “because” as a preposition here. It’s still functioning as a subordinating conjunction, as it should, and the noun that follows is just a reduction of the subject+predicate phrase that would have followed. The reduction is kind of text-speak or twitter-speak, to save words, sound cool, and emphasize the single word that is the reason for the “because.”

  33. gluejar says:

    From “Men In Black” (1997)

    Jay: Well, yeah, you know, ’cause ’cause he never appreciated you anyway. In fact, you know what – you kicked HIM out! And now that he’s gone you’re gonna go into town, you go to Bloomingdale’s and find some nice dresses, get yourself some shoes, you know, find somewhere, maybe you can get a facial. And, uh, oh – hire a decorator to come in here quick, *’cause, DAMN*.

  34. […] been a bit of buzz around because being the new preposition.  Sentence first addressed it as well.  I thought I might offer yet […]

  35. Stan says:

    Yasha: Great example, thank you.

    Clay: Yes, people are using the construction in different ways and for different reasons. A new article in the American Scholar looks at how it might relate to lolspeak and other humorous nonstandard forms.

    Arlene: There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not because is functioning as a preposition in this new idiom. I’ve updated the post with further comment and some links that may be of interest.

    gluejar: Another good example, thanks. It does seems especially suited to interjections like damn. On Twitter earlier, Ben Zimmer suggested that because want may be relatively common because that verb ‘feels more interjection-y than other verbs, in part thanks to “want/do not want” meme.’

  36. Edly says:

    http://i.imgur.com/2GNVHia.png

    I felt it necessary to bring this full circle. Because memes.

  37. […] “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.” By Stan Carey, with more from Megan Garber. […]

  38. […] & effects. Meet the latest preposition, because internet, because grammar. Megan Garber and Stan Carey get at the root […]

  39. […] ‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar | Sentence first […]

  40. […] mention all that … because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use “because.” Linguists are calling it the “prepositional-because.” Or the “because-noun.” […]

  41. […] Fascinating, huh? And that is not even the best part about it! It knows no limits and you can used it the way you want, to criticize, to be ironic or to be funny. If you got interested, here you can have more information about it: […]

  42. […] has turned “because” into its own preposition (as language expert Stan Carey has pointed out). For example, the sun’s turning upside down, but don’t worry, “because […]

  43. […] Carey writes on his blog that "'Because' has become a preposition". Here's an example he […]

  44. […] The Atlantic, based on this source article.  Stan Carey […]

  45. This just seems like laziness to me. It’s funny how certain “idiosyncrasies” are pushed into our lexicon.

  46. I first noticed the usage in a biting, satirical movie review. It was placed like a punchline at the end of a thick paragraph of rant and it was hysterical.

    I think if it’s used very sparingly and only for comedic effect, it offers an added punch: the misuse of proper language becomes part of the joke, a sort of inversely sanctimonious backslap.

    I also think it works best with nouns and states of being. Otherwise, it gets lost in a sea of kittens and cheeseburgers.

  47. because lazy… I do it because I am too lazy and not enough characters left on twitter because run out… because I have run out… coz tired can’t think.

  48. Katie Wellman says:

    I don’t like this. It seems very childish to me to say “Because+noun”. When I see those internet memes, that’s what I think of. I refuse to accept this as part of the “norm” and won’t be integrating it in my own usage.

    I’ve always been very careful with my usage of the word “because” as I quickly learned that teachers didn’t like when you said “Because of the chickens!” or whatever at the beginning of a sentence.

    This, to me, throws the rules of grammar out the window.

  49. Anna says:

    The rules of grammar exist as a natural derivation of human intuition. They are not some divine rule dictated from an abstract authority. Although proper grammar is beautiful to hear because it satisfies what we’ve been taught, prescriptivism does not actually make a difference in language’s organic evolution. And although I personally won’t be adopting this “because+noun” construction, I’m excited by the new spin English speakers have thrown at language once again! Let us watch as change occurs.

    • Totally with you on this, Anna, and I don’t agree with Katie. As an editor, it fascinates me to see the language evolve. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. Of course, as editors, we need rules, but we should be the first to understand that language evolution is organic and inevitable.

  50. nikkic1981 says:

    Reblogged this on Musings on life and commented:
    Really interesting article… As a journalist, any English language development always fascinates me 👍

  51. Stan says:

    kbeezyisviral: Every innovation in language necessarily began as an idiosyncrasy. We don’t have to like them all immediately, but it makes sense to reserve judgement.

    allthoughtswork: Those are good observations. The construction can be put to good comic purpose, but its increasing popularity is dulling the effect.

    stealthy cat: Sometimes laziness motivates it, and sometimes what looks like laziness is more a case of communicative efficiency.

    Katie: Thanks for your dissenting view. As I said in the post, no one has to like or adopt the usage. But it doesn’t “[throw] the rules of grammar out the window”. There are different sets of rules of grammar. Those of Standard English remain as they are, undisturbed (for now) by this novelty. Informal registers have their own grammars that may more readily allow such innovation. My post “Is you is or is you ain’t bad grammar? elaborates on this point.

    Anna: Well said. It can be satisfying to read or hear well-formed and formal English, but there’s also pleasure to be had in modern colloquial varieties, even in the deliberate subversion of “proper” style. For neutral observers it’s interesting to watch the phenomenon develop.

    Arlene: I find it exciting too, but not scary. Language evolution is, as you say, organic and inevitable; it is also constant, and fundamental to what language is. And it’s worth noting that while popular wisdom associates rules and grammar with formal Standard English, every nonstandard variety has its own system of rules and grammar; they just tend to have less social prestige.

  52. When I read, I enjoy good literature and if I came to that literature I would change books. It may be narrow minded of me but I like writing and reading that has a known structure. That evolution, if it really is one, is not in my windshield but hopefully in my rearview mirror. Resist the change because no sense.

  53. […] с машиной, как отмечается в публикациях The Atlantic и в записи лингвиста и писателя Стэна Кари в его блоге Sentence first, […]

  54. leasyg says:

    No, I think people are just being lazy by not saying of when using because as a coordinating conjunction

  55. Interesting. I’d never heard of this trend. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this, and I’m someone who thinks people need to get over irregardless and accept it as a word (not that I don’t judge those who use it, but based on its widespread use, the grammar police needs to admit defeat). I can understand when posting on twitter when character count matters, but not on anything formal!

  56. Gary McGath says:

    “Because [noun]” is a mockery of one’s opponent’s intelligence, deliberately ungrammatical. There’s no grammar issue to resolve.

  57. To “Why did you…?” I’ve got the answer “Well, because” from a couple of teenagers. It seems to mean “I don’t want talk about it”.

  58. Does that mean I can’t correct the grammar of people who write like that anymore, because society?

  59. Hi Stan, I mean that it is lazy because we all miss out the part which is ‘I am’ because why type it when the person reading it knows it is you typing it? For example: ‘… because eating’ really means ‘… because I am eating’. I don’t think it is because people are making up some kind of new syntax because it is trendy, it’s just in need because we don’t want to type too many words unnecessarily in tweets and chat windows ^_^

  60. […] at 8:30 on December 1, 2013 by Andrew Sullivan Stan Carey lays out an interpretation of the recent origin of using “because” as a preposition: Neal […]

  61. Stan says:

    betterthntherapy: “I like writing and reading that has a known structure.” What about regional dialects? If a novel contains dialogue with idioms unfamiliar to you, do you stop reading?

    leasyg, mnhtrading: Sometimes, but laziness doesn’t come close to explaining all the ways and reasons it’s used.

    coffeeandpassport: You’re right, it’s not suitable for use in formal English. But if you start seeing it regularly in informal contexts, you can get used to it.

    Gary: Only in some instances. Often there’s no mockery at all. See the examples in my post.

    drshyamalavatsa: It works the other way too: adults saying “Because.” (or “That’s the why.”) to younger people.

    Susannah: Yes, unless it’s used in a context where it shouldn’t be, and when you have licence (tacit or explicit) to offer such correction.

    segmation: It is a playful meme.

    jeremy: Thanks.

    pghRower: The Atlantic article is a follow-up to this post, which should be clear if you read either piece.

    • pghRower says:

      i went back to the atlantic article which i had first read long before i stumbled on your blog, and did see that the author referenced you, thanks for clarification

  62. As both a language queer and Millennial, I understand both sides to this argument. The new usage (because + noun) sounds catchy, funny and sharply to the point; however, it really reflects poorly on us younger generations. Twitter isn’t a place to judge America’s grammar, though! Don’t take everything at face value – let kids be kids. :)

  63. I like it when it’s clearly a kitchy slang term – because grammar! I fee like it fails when you find it into otherwise cogent sentences and use it to link longer strings of words. You should know when it’s meant to be cutesy – it’s more effective that way: because tone (ok, this usage is a little weak). Otherwise, it just starts to come across like a word got dropped, because ingrained grammatical expectations (see, it just feels weird and incomplete!).

  64. Before reading article I didn’t even realize that my friends and I used because + noun often. Usually, it’s to add emphasis to the noun itself and imply that the reasoning is obvious. For us there’s always a slight pause before saying the noun, and there’s always a very strong undercurrent of a “duh!” feeling. For example: I didn’t to my homework yesterday because Nashville (the tv show). So here I’m saying that it’s so obvious I didn’t do my homework because of Nasvhille. It’s difficult to explain.

  65. plimon13 says:

    Reblogged this on Collecting Judgment in California | Yourself & Professionally and commented:
    OYYYYY, pet peeve, but im guilty.

  66. Stan says:

    motorcityblondie: The catchiness of the construction will likely help it spread, but it might also fuel the inevitable backlash. I don’t think it necessarily reflects poorly on its users, though.

    Michelle: Yes, tone matters when you’re using it. When it appears at the end of a properly written and sensibly argued point, for instance, it can feel incongruous, as you demonstrate.

    royallyunamused: That’s a helpful note on how you use it. (And thanks for clarifying that Nashville is a TV programme; I’d have been wondering otherwise!)

  67. m.m. says:

    huh…. me and a fellow lingophile talked about this back in 2011 iirc, and while it indeed has taken off since then, one old example is from back in the 90s: because duh!

    • Stan says:

      m.m.: Yes, it’s been around a while but only in recent years has it become more widely used. Increased internet access and usage are presumably playing a major role here.

  68. […] “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar” tackles this issue head on, and I must admit – like Stephen Fry, I’m battling my vices. I like the use of “because” as a preposition insofar as it functions as an idiom, but the idea […]

  69. Jobel says:

    Very interesting read. Thankfully most of my friends appreciate relatively good grammar so I’ve only actually seen this a few times before.

  70. […] ‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar […]

  71. […] ‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar […]

  72. Richmond says:

    I imagine the Queen of England having a heart attack because of this.

  73. M says:

    I find it interesting how much this looks like the german preposition “wegen” (because of + Noun).

  74. Stan says:

    Jobel: In my experience, the use of this construction doesn’t correlate with substandard grammar.

    Richmond: If she knows anything about slang and language change, I can’t see her being too bothered by it.

    M: Interesting observation.

  75. […] of the year. I didn’t dwell on it because I’ve already written about it at length, in ‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar, where I described it as a “succinct and expressive” […]

  76. […] because advocate:  http://stancarey.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/because-has-become-a-preposition-because-grammar/ […]

  77. […] constructions, which is hard to argue with (the ADS explanation is very brief, but this blog post by Stan Carey is helpful and informative). The new uses of “because” have been on my subconscious […]

  78. […] and know thy selfie offers some thoughts on the words and phrases of 2013. It includes my own pick, because X, which anticipated the American Dialect Society’s selection […]

  79. […] spread across the rest of the language community. The internet driven phenomenon of 2013, the ‘because + NOUN’ construction in English, is an obvious […]

  80. […] which was by no means acceptable even a decade ago. It’s only within the past year that linguists have begun referring to it as the “prepositional-because” or “because-… This of course doesn’t cover all the nuances the English language begins to accumulate, but […]

  81. […] And it’s not just words. New grammatical patterns get the same treatment: after writing about the innovative because X construction, I was told it was ugly and unnecessary […]

  82. […] studied the same phenomenon in sentences like “the ozone layer prevents radiation (from) reaching the earth”. At least for some speakers, “because” has recently become a preposition itself as a result of preposition dropping in phrases like “because (of) grammar”. […]

  83. […] character with child-like cognition, in this case the young Vardaman**. Those who have followed the recent conversation about prepositional because might enjoy this Vardaman […]

  84. antaryamin says:

    Obviously, it is Singapore English. Anyone who speaks it won’t understand the fuss.

    • Stan says:

      It’s not obvious, or probable, that the construction spread from Singapore English, though. There’s been a fuss because it’s a swift and striking grammatical innovation in informal usage.

  85. […] is different; our grammar may even be different. We embrace certain forms of informality (because Twitter). We develop a store of short words—‘apt’ is particularly handy when space is […]

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