Reading John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas, I was struck by the use of too in this passage:
Common wisdom would indicate that she should be a little apprehensive but her instincts tell her differently; this person wishes her no harm. Too, she hasn’t felt inclined toward apprehension lately. She has quickly faded into an observational fatalism — or is it bland apathy? She doesn’t really care.
Too is used this way — as a sentence adverb at the start of a clause — on at least one other occasion in the book. The usage has some currency: the Shorter OED has a line from Robert Ludlum (‘Too, the windows were not that close to one another’), but I wondered how acceptable the language authorities consider it.
The American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) says it ‘cannot be called incorrect, but some critics consider it awkward’. The Columbia Guide to Standard American English says it’s ‘rather stiff when compared with besides, moreover, also, and the like’.
Garner’s Modern American Usage finds there is ‘a tendency in facile journalism to use the word this way’, and recommends that we use also, and, or words such as moreover, further, and furthermore.
Lest the recency illusion take hold, I should point out that this is by no means a new idiom. Robert Burchfield, who edited the four-volume OED Supplement, says it had
a long and untroubled history from OE until the 17C. […] at which point it became rare or obsolete, only to be revived in the 20C., chiefly in AmE.
Burchfield quotes several examples, including one from the New Yorker: ‘But, too, he was a charmer.’ But is this usage a charmer? It’s certainly not wrong, but it sounds slightly strange to my ears, probably because I encounter it so rarely.
The last source I checked is the last I’ll quote from: the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage. Its inclusion of examples from the NY Times Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated suggests that the idiom is seen principally in journalism, but I haven’t explored this in any depth.
the OED Supplement shows that such usage has been revived in the 20th century, originally in American English but now in British English as well. No grammatical objection can be made to it, and the practice is clearly standard. Whatever problems it causes have to do with idiom — which it to say that, because of its relative rarity, it sounds peculiar to some people.
This chimes with my own feelings about it. Whether or not to use it is a matter of style and personal preference. I don’t plan to adopt it in my own speech or writing, but I have no problems at all with its occasional appearance in my reading material.
How about you — do you ever use it, and how do you find it?
From Jonathan Lethem’s You Don’t Love Me Yet: ‘Too, driving into the canyon of vacated plazas of downtown Los Angeles felt suitably solemn and irrevocable.’
Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion: ‘Too, according to psychologists, on average about 3 percent of any population have psychopathic tendencies, so you can be sure that some of those in the recruitment line will be psychopaths.’
Dashiell Hammett, ‘The House in Turk Street, from The Continental Op: ‘Too, if I take her with me, she will want a share in the loot.’
Martin Amis’s Night Train has a couple of examples: ‘Too, I buzzed Linda, asking her to greet the elevator and bring the Colonel right on in.’ ‘Too, I’d washed my hair the night before, and had an early one.’
Despite his father Kingsley Amis’s warning, in The King’s English: ‘Never begin a fresh sentence with too followed by a comma, to mean something like further or also. Not even Americans should be allowed to get away with that.’