Tuesday, May 6, 2008

When It Comes to Empty Phrases

English teachers are notorious for having pet peeves that are, well, really petty.

One that's cropped up on me in the last eight months is the phrase "when it comes to," always empty of meaning and wordy, always vague in what the "it" refers to.

I don't know whether the peevishness is new to me or whether the phrase has virally infected my students. I can stand "when it comes to" once every, let's say, 5,000 words, but I read 500-word themes by students that use the phrase three times or more ... sometimes on the same page.

The phrase becomes monotonous quickly.

I get "I'm distant when it comes to my personal life," instead of "I'm distant in my personal life."

I get "When it comes to the word 'caring,' one thinks of someone who takes other people's needs and feelings into consideration," instead of "'Caring' means taking other people's needs and feelings into consideration."

I get "When it comes to my family and friends, I make sure they are not wanting or needing anything," instead of "I make sure my family and friends don't want or need anything."

I get "My boss tells me that I do a great job when it comes to thinking 'outside the box,'" instead of "My boss tells me I do a great job of thinking 'outside the box.'"

When it comes to irritating verbal habits that tend to suck the rhythm and life out of a sentence, this one currently tops my list--right up there with the use of the passive voice and expletive sentence structures. But maybe, being an English teacher, I'm unusually picky when it comes to how people write their sentences.

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