By Barry Willis
Like rodents getting into seemingly impenetrable buildings, colloquialisms have a way of sneaking into many pieces of otherwise respectable writing. Among the most common is the phrase “try and . . .” as in “Try and start the car” or “Try and win the game.”
Any middle-school English teacher would become justifiably livid at these sentences, which should be properly rendered as “Try to start the car” and “Try to win the game.” Commonly used throughout the English-speaking world, in both written and spoken communication, “try and” is a hard habit to break, primarily because it occupies a bit of gray area. The addition of a comma, as in “Try, and win the game” makes the sentence perfectly grammatical. Inserting a period (sometimes called a full stop) does something similar, as in “Try. Start the car.”
These gray-area examples are statistical outliers—the phrase “try and” is almost entirely used in place of “try to,” and so often that editors often don’t notice, or more likely, don’t consider it important enough to change. That’s a pity, because “try to” is still the proper expression. Try, and avoid writing “try and.”
Another common glitch is interchanging “in to” with “into”—a mistake all too easy to make and one all too easy for proofreaders and editors to miss. Here’s a snippet of a news report about a pending case in the US Supreme Court. We won’t name the guilty party, but it’s one who most definitely should have known better:” . . . it comes as the former president is still bitter that the Supreme Court did not step into reverse election results . . .”
Do you see what’s wrong? As written, “reverse election results” becomes a noun phrase, like “a mound of cattle manure,” that the Supreme Court avoiding stepping in. What the heck are “reverse results?” All would be well had the writer simply hit the space bar so that SCOTUS “did not step in to reverse election results.” This way, “to reverse” is a properly rendered infinitive, acting on “election results.” Problem solved.
This same news report also includes the following: “In court papers, they make clear that the case is forward looking—not meant to impact the last election but future challenges going forward.” Wow! “Forward looking,” “future challenges,” and “going forward”—all in one sentence.
How much redundancy can one sentence bear? “Future challenges” are by definition “going forward,” and a case examining ramifications for future elections is by definition “forward looking.” This offending string of verbiage should have been chopped to: “ . . . the case is not meant to impact the last election, but future challenges.” Even better: ” . . . the case applies only to future challenges, not the last election.”
As has been said in many other contexts, less is more.