WORD PATRONAGE: self-referential clarifications made in the context of writing or speaking

word patronage

I was thumbing through Garner’s Modern American Usage the other day looking for something for a piece I was writing.   I turned a page and saw an item listed which intrigued me.  It was Word Patronage.   I was curious what it was all about, and discovered that it was something that related to my own writing and speaking.   It seems that Garner invented the phrase.   An example of it might be found in this sentence:

My concern for animal safety, so to speak, comes from my childhood affection for my first dog, Fido.”

The term so to speak is not necessary to the sentence.  It is simply a way that the writer/speaker almost apologizes for the use of the term animal safety.    From Garner’s perspective, and that of many others, the use of such parenthetical phrases indicates an insecurity on the part of the speaker or writer.    He says such usage stems from

…the tendency to take out one’s words and look at them, to apologize for expressions that either need no apology or should be quietly refrained from.” *

It is not at all rare for me to insert such things as the phrase  “no pun intended” when trying to be clever.   Garner and others would say that there is no need for that phrase.   I guess one can assume that the reader is intelligent enough to recognize a pun when it occurs.  In a sense, then, the writer or speaker is talking down to the reader or listener.

It would seem that the “rule” would be that if it seems to need a clarifying word patronage the professional thing to do would be to go back to the text and do some creative editing.   Removing a word that needs clarification is a far better writing technique than inserting an apology for using it.


Photo Credit:  Coventry

*Garner, p. 867

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