The Frontal Cortex

Consider the X

One of my recurring weaknesses as a writer is a reliance on the following two transitions:

“Consider the X”

and

Look, for instance, at the X

I use them all the time, even though I know they are lazy linguistic bridges, cheap transitions from idea to the next. Over at Language Log, Benjamin Zimmer has a wonderful history of the phrase. It turns out my laziness is actually an allusion to Luke:

This crutch for lazy (science) writers goes all the way back to the New Testament. Here are the famous lines of Luke 12:24 and 12:27 in the King James Version:

“Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

[SNIP]

Since at least the nineteenth century, “Consider the X” variants have flourished, often directly evoking the Gospel of Luke. Christina Rossetti’s 1866 poem “Consider” moves from “the lilies of the field” to consider “the sparrows of the air of small account” and “the birds that have no barn nor harvest-weeks.”

Personally, I like to think that my “consider the x” phrases are actually thoughtful references to M.F.K. Fisher (her “Consider the Oyster” is a classic) and D.F.W.

Comments

  1. #1 chezjake
    January 15, 2009

    Don’t be in too big a hurry to abandon those phrases. When compared to something like “An examination of X reveals…” both of your phrases have the virtue of inviting the reader into the discussion, rather than dismissing her/him to solely being a passive observer of it.

  2. #2 glow owl
    January 15, 2009

    i’m down with the x, and fully happy to consider it.

    (personally speaking)

  3. #3 Cheri
    January 15, 2009

    And don’t forget Ogden Nash, “Consider the auk”!
    Actually, I like the heft and meter of “consider the …,” and it sounds like an invitation to the reader to participate in the thought process. The English of the King James version is almost poetic — you could do worse than make the occasional linguistic allusion to it, knowingly or not.

  4. #4 Fertanish
    January 16, 2009

    I think you are just mimicking Michael Stipe.

  5. #5 crawford
    January 16, 2009

    Consider the reader.
    Oh, yeah, right.

  6. #6 Tracy
    January 18, 2009

    Or, as the Artful Dodger sang in Oliver:
    Consider yourself at home.
    Consider yourself one of the family.
    We’ve taken to you so strong.
    It’s clear we’re going to get along.
    Consider yourself well in
    Consider yourself part of the furniture.
    There isn’t a lot to spare.
    Who cares?..What ever we’ve got we share!

  7. #7 Marco
    January 28, 2009

    Better to use “Consider the…” than “If you think about it…” As if the facts will change if you don’t think about them.

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