April 2, 2007

And don't even get me started on "What do I mean by...?"

Here's how Paul Krugman begins his NY Times column today.

I have a theory about the Bush administration abuses of power that are now, finally, coming to light. Ultimately, I believe, they were driven by rising income inequality.

Let me explain.

Let me explain? Is there any more annoying phrase in the New York Times Op-Ed arsenal? It's your column, douchebag. The reason you have it is in order to explain your opinions. You don't need to ask permission.

This stupid verbal tic is both condescending — what are we going to do, not let him explain? — and arrogant. There are people who would kill for space in the New York Times, and you waste yours with this totally unnecessary locution?

Which gets it's own paragraph?

Either learn to write a real segue — one that actually links the idea of one graf to that of the following on — or skip it. It's obviously not necessary to help the reader follow your argument, since it doesn't actually do so.

Krugman has fallen back on this gimmick in the past (at least four times since 2002, according to Nexis), but the real abuser at the Times is Tom Friedman, who has asked our permission to explain 19 times in ten years.

That's like, incessant! Knock it off, both of you.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Very Andy Rooney.

You missed the opportunity to title your post, "Let Me Explain Nation."

Don't get me started on Don't get me started. Who's starting you, after all?

"Language keeps me locked and repeating."

Here's a game: try counting the number of times Friedman uses the words I, me, or my in his first paragraph. No other columnist comes close to the number of times the moustachioed man does this.

I haven't done the research, but my sense is Josh Marshall is another big "Let me explain" offender.

But more annoying is the New Republic-ish "Don't get me wrong."

Formula: You start out with a very strong statement, then back away into reasonableness with a second of third paragraph beginning, "Don't get me wrong."


Probably right about Josh Marshall, but most of his let-me-explains are on his own site in blog-form, so who gives a crap. More than lazy writing, the real crime of Friedman and Krugman is the waste of valuable space and time in a premier location.

Josh's all-too-reasonable style sometimes gets a little annoying, but back when he was CalPundit, I had to stop reading Kevin Drum because his every entry seemed to contain a strong assertion which he would immediately follow up with an "on the other hand" type of locution, reaching a conclusion that was always "maybe, maybe not." I'm thinking it was exactly this wishy-washiness that appealed to the Washington Monthly.

Also, don't forget about "To be sure..."

That should be "its own paragraph".

Crap, Now I'm all self-conscious. I've used "Let me explain" at least twice (both in columns from 2004).

The sentence does serve a function beyond just word-count padding: It places emphasis on a counterintuitive point in an attempt to build a small amount of suspense for the forthcoming argument, sort of like a dramatic pause in a speech. But you're right that it's easy to overuse.

I sort of like Josh Marshall's all-too-reasonable style. I'm sure it's a character flaw, but I just don't enjoy repetitive, verbose blog abuse as much as most people seem to.

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