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Can we stop saying ‘take a listen’?

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If you listen to the news — pretty much any channel — it is likely that it won’t take more than a few minutes for you to hear someone say “take a listen” and then go to some video. I know it’s hardly one of the world’s big (or even little) problems, and it’s hardly a new one, but I cringe when I hear it. I’m not the only one.

The authors of the great Grammarphobia blog have been on this since 2008, and following is the post they wrote then, and updated on Saturday, Jan. 23 (which I am republishing with permission). They are Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, who between them have written five books about the English language and have more than half a century of experience as writers and editors. They include “Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” (O’Conner), “Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language” (O’Connor and Kellerman), and “You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online” (O’Connor and Kellerman).

O’Conner spent 15 years at the New York Times mostly editing at the Book Review but also writing articles and book reviews. She also wrote The Times’s weekly columns on new video releases and paperback books. Kellerman, a foreign correspondent at United Press International, took over that column at the Times, where he worked as an editor, wrote articles on literary subjects and reviewed books.

From the Grammarphobia blog:

Q: On CNN, all the anchors use the expression “take a listen” instead of just “listen” or “listen to this.” Does that sound as caustic to you as it does to me?
A: We don’t know about caustic, but it certainly sounds puffed up, condescending, and lame. We could go on, but let us quote from the entry for this “infantile phrase” in The Dimwit’s Dictionary (2d ed.), by Robert Hartwell Fiske:
“As inane as it is insulting, have (take) a listen obviously says nothing that listen alone does not. Journalists and media personalities who use this offensive phrase ought to be silenced; businesspeople, dismissed; public officials, pilloried.”
Unfortunately, this horse is out of the barn. We just googled “take a listen” and got 725,000 hits.
The expression hasn’t made it yet into modern dictionaries, but The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) and Cambridge Dictionaries Online include examples of somewhat similar usages.
Here’s the American Heritage example: “Would you like to give the CD a listen before buying it?”
And this is the example from Cambridge Dictionaries: “Have a listen to this!”
The word “listen,” by the way, has been used as a noun for centuries in expressions like “to be on the listen” or “to have a proper listen.”
In fact, the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for “listen” as a noun dates from the 1300s. In an apparent reference to becoming deaf or hard of hearing, the writer wonders if someone “has losed the lysten.”

 

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