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Because as a Preposition

Neal Whitman of the Literal Minded blog noticed that kids are using because like a preposition in sentences such as I didn't finish my homework because Skyrim. Here's why.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
October 18, 2013
Episode #387

Page 2 of 3

If you ever fall off the Sears Tower, just go real limp, because maybe you’ll look like a dummy and people will try to catch you because, hey, free dummy.

In the early 2000s, someone took the saying “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” and turned it into:

If life gives you lemons, keep them, because, hey, free lemons. 

Before the “hey,” we have a regular English sentence. After the “hey,” we have an extremely condensed and abbreviated thought, represented by just a noun phrase. The humor in the “free dummy” and “free lemons” sentences comes from the speaker’s assumption that all he or she needs to say is “free dummy” or “free lemons,” and naturally you, the listener can fill in all the rest. A free dummy? Heck, yeah, who wouldn’t want a free dummy? Doesn’t everybody want one? 

Linguists call this kind of construction because NOUN.

In these sentences, the “hey” works like an adaptor, letting you shift from the ordinary speech register to this casual and condensed register. It’s like a verbal shrug, as if to ask, “What more do I need to say?” In fact, I can’t even say the “free dummy” or “free lemons” sentences without shrugging. 

In the 2000s, these “because-hey” sentences seem to have become a meme. The “free dummy” and “free lemons” versions turn up again and again on the Internet, and Google also turns up examples such as “because, hey, free pizza,” “hey, free bucket,” and “hey, free hug with handsome guy.” You can also find versions without the word “free,” such as this example from 2009, about people who predict the end of the world: “Then they were all over 2000 because, hey, new millennium and all that.”

Somewhere along the way, some speakers began to leave out the “hey,” but managed to keep the hand-waving you-know-what-I-mean overtones for the noun phrase they put after “because.” The earliest example I’ve found for this is from August 2008, and it puts this hand-waving into words. It goes like this: “[M]arket capitalism leads to political liberalism because… well, because FREEDOM, that’s why!” There are probably earlier examples and examples with other nouns, just waiting for you to type in the right search string to find them. The most recent one I’ve seen is from my Facebook feed, where a man wrote about his sweetie, “he now uses a hammer to break up coffee beans for the French press rather than using a coffee grinder because: carcinogens.” He used a colon after “because” instead of a “hey” or a “well.”

Examples like these are the kind that the linguists blogged about in 2012. Laura Bailey’s example involved the video game Skyrim, which came out in late 2011 and became part of an online catchphrase: “because Skyrim.” For example, “I didn’t finish my homework because Skyrim.” The idea seems to be that the speaker is so preoccupied with Skyrim that he or she can’t be bothered to string enough words together to explain it coherently. You should just be able to get it from the context, because everyone knows how consuming Skyrim is, right? Mark Liberman noted that sentences like these are “usually to be associated with an implication that the referenced line of reasoning is weak.” He gave an example from a headline: “Louisiana GOP Bigot Changes Mind on School Vouchers Because Muslims.” 

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