English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet

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Let's start with the dull stuff, because pragmatism.

The word "because," in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, "because" has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I'm reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I'm reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which "because" lends itself.

I mention all that ... because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use "because." Linguists are calling it the "prepositional-because." Or the "because-noun."

You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I'm late because YouTube. You're reading this because procrastination. As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: "'Because' has become a preposition, because grammar." 

Indeed. So we get uses like this, from Wonkette

Well here is a nice young man, Fred E. Ray Smith, running for Oklahoma state Senate, from jail, where he was taken for warrants and drunk driving and driving without a license or registration, and also he owes so much child support and his ex has a protective order out against him. We assume he is going to win, because “R-Oklahoma.”

And like this, from the Daily Kos:

 If due north was good enough for that chicken's parents and grandparents and great-great-great-great-grandparents, it's good enough for that chicken too, damn it. But Iowa still wants to sell eggs to California, because money.

And like this, from Lindy West and Jezebel:

Did you hear the big news? Men are going extinct. Really really slowly, and probably only in theory, but extinct nonetheless! [...]

Lame! RIP, dudes! Now, I'm sure kneejerk anti-feminist dickwads think that the eradication of men is exactly what we women mean by "plz can we have equal rights now thx." Because logic.

It's a usage, in other words, that is exceptionally bloggy and aggressively casual and implicitly ironic. And also highly adaptable. Carey has unearthed instances of the "because-noun" construction with the noun in question being, among other terms, "science, math, people, art, reasons, comedy, bacon, ineptitude, fun, patriarchy, politics, school, intersectionality, and winner." (Intersectionality! Because THEORY. Bacon! Because BACON.)

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But the formulation isn't simply limited to nouns. Carey again:

The construction is more versatile than “because+noun” suggests. Prepositional because can be yoked to verbs (Can’t talk now because cooking), adjectives (making up examples because lazy), interjections (Because yay!), and maybe adverbs too, though in strings like Because honestly., the adverb is functioning more as an exclamation. The resulting phrases are all similarly succinct and expressive.

Which is to say, the "because-noun" form is limited only to the confines of your own imagination. It can be anything you want it to be. So we get comments like these, with people using "because" not just to explain, but also to criticize, and sensationalize, and ironize:

So how did people start using "because" like this? Unclear. There are certainly connections to memes, as in 2001's elegantly straightforward "Because fuck you," and 2011's "because race car." The construction could also be, as the linguist Neal Whitman speculates, a shortened version of "because, hey, [noun]"—as in, NSF cancels new political science grants, because, hey, politics—with people dropping the "hey" while keeping the rest of the construction intact. (In this case, hey functions "like an adaptor, letting you shift from the ordinary speech register to this casual and condensed register.") There could also be echoes, Carey points out, of parent-child exchanges (kid: Why? Parent: Because). A comment on the blog Language Log also mentions the intriguing, though likely unrelated, fact that in Spanish, "because" (porque) and "why" (¿por qué?are close to synonymous.  

However it originated, though, the usage of "because-noun" (and of "because-adjective" and "because-gerund") is one of those distinctly of-the-Internet, by-the-Internet movements of language. It conveys focus (linguist Gretchen McCulloch: "It means something like 'I'm so busy being totally absorbed by X that I don’t need to explain further, and you should know about this because it's a completely valid incredibly important thing to be doing'"). It conveys brevity (Carey: "It has a snappy, jocular feel, with a syntactic jolt that allows long explanations to be forgone").

But it also conveys a certain universality. When I say, for example, "The talks broke down because politics," I'm not just describing a circumstance. I'm also describing a category. I'm making grand and yet ironized claims, announcing a situation and commenting on that situation at the same time. I'm offering an explanation and rolling my eyes—and I'm able to do it with one little word. Because variety. Because Internet. Because language. 

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.


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