Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The intrusive 'do'

Many years ago an acquaintance whose native language was Portuguese remarked on the strange English circumlocutions involving various parts of the verb to do.

Until then I'd taken it for granted that one should say things like 'Do you play Go?', but ever since my attention was drawn to the waste of words, I wanted to ask 'Play you Go?', restrained only by the wish not to seem to be trying to draw attention to myself.

The short form of questions seems to survive only in the case of 'have' . 'Have you the time' just about passes, though 'Know you the time?' would appear odd.

Recently 'do' has intruded even further, in the strange locution 'I don't do X' where 'X' is not anything that could be 'done' . For instance an unusually honest user of the idiom might say ' I don't do thoughtful' to mean 'I don't think'.

Politicians often express themselves thus. Perhaps they are so obsessed with doing things, or being seen to do something, that they want to use the vocabulary of action even to refer to inaction.

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